I saw Breach while on vacation last week, and it’s a solidly good, if far from spectacular, film. Chris Cooper delivers the goods as notorious spy Robert Hanssen, with the rest of the cast performing serviceably. I don’t think it’s worth a spoiler alert, considering you know how the movie ends from the very beginning (the opening is a clip of Attorney General John Ashcroft announcing the Hanssen arrest in February 2001).
There’s some espionage and intrigue if you’re looking for that sort of thing, but not all that much. Although there are a few nervous scenes when it appears that our hero, Eric O’Neill (Ryan Phillipe), is screwed and that Hanssen will find out he’s under government surveillance, I was disappointed that we never get to see any of Hanssen’s actual betrayals beyond a quick visual of a few KGB sources being executed while Kate Burroughs (Laura Linney) recounts Hanssen’s misdeeds to an incredulous O’Neill (perhaps too many details are still classified, and the filmmakers didn’t want to make stuff up?). I still enjoyed the movie, though more as an insider look into the sometimes messy workings of the federal bureaucracy and the toll these jobs take on the family lives of the people who hold them.
What struck me about Breach is that it is not a recruiting video for the FBI at all. I had expected the movie to make spying look sexy, but instead the movie highlights how screwed up the various US agencies are with turf wars and inefficiency (the new computers sitting in the hallways being one example). O’Neill even leaves the government after the Hanssen ordeal, having decided that the stress isn’t worth the strain on his relationship with his wife–not exactly the kind of thing that will have the kids running to sign up for federal service any time soon. He went to law school and he’s now a lawyer, according to the words that appear on screen before the credits roll.
The Catholic church, and especially the conservative Catholics in Opus Dei, come out looking pretty bad too. Hanssen, despite his constant moralizing and his pressuring O’Neill to “pray more” and to attend the Latin mass (which upsets O’Neill’s wife), turns out to be a pervert who makes risque home videos. There are a few references to Louis Freeh, the former FBI director who is also known to be Opus Dei, though Freeh never appears on screen.
If you have an interest in the workings of the FBI and similar agencies and their recent history, you will enjoy Breach, as I did. If that doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, it’s possible that you may be better off seeing something else.