Breach of normal spy movie formula

While most spy thrillers rely on high-speed chases and gunfights to create suspense, “Breach” opts for character development and more mundane situations to entertain its audience. This may sound like a tremendous bore, but director Billy Ray’s meticulous pacing creates an intriguing film.

The story is based off the case of Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper), an FBI agent who spent the last two decades of his career spying for the Russians.

In 2001, the Bureau was able to arrest Hanssen in the act of espionage largely due to the efforts of Eric O’Neill (Ryan Phillippe), an FBI recruit assigned to work as Hansen’s personal assistant and gain incriminating evidence needed for the case.

Since the majority of the story takes place in FBI offices, director Billy Ray is forced to rely on his characters to keep things moving. The script emphasizes the contradictions in Hanssen’s personality: he was a devout Catholic but made amateur porn videos. The film, however, never tries to explain his motivations for spying.

This is a wise move since psychoanalysis of why a seemingly patriotic individual would turn against his country could have been a tedious and unnecessary subplot. Instead, the film focuses on O’Neill, an aspiring agent who initially admires Hanssen’s dedication and lifestyle before, finding out the depth of his betrayal.

Chris Cooper gives another magnificent performance as Hansen, simultaneously communicating the power and insecurity of Hansen’s character. Phillippe holds his own as O’Neill and has developed into a reliable actor after starting his career in teenage films such as “Cruel Intentions.” Laura Linney is disappointing as Kate Burroughs, O’Neill’s supervisor. Usually a vibrant actress, Linney looks like she’s going through the motions.

Unlike most spy films, which have more plot twists than a Dan Brown novel, “Breach” maintains suspense while following its simple story line, and the result is quite refreshing.

Kevin Craft can be contacted at