Chris Cooper stars as an ageing FBI officer with a dark secret, and Ryan Phillipe as the young agent aiming to uncover it. It is based on the true story of the treacherous agent Robert Hanssen, the most dangerous mole ever to be employed by the US government.
Unusually for a modern thriller, the director employs lingering shots and builds up the tension without using fast edit techniques so that we focus on the characters and not just the action.
The spare, uncluttered interiors are reminiscent of Hitchcock's film "Vertigo" or of scenes from the work of artist Edward Hopper, where lonely figures inhabit barely furnished rooms. Whether this was the director's intention or not, the sparsely-populated sets serve to keep the viewer focused, even transfixed, upon the characters, rather than their surroundings. Thus our absorption with them means that we are drawn into the story, so that we ourselves move from being spectators and are drawn into the hushed and secretive world of cold war espionage.
The title Breach signposts the major theme of trust within personal and corporate relationsips. This is not only seen in Chris Cooper's character and the betrayal of his country but also in Ryan Philippe as he, under orders, builds a close (almost father-son) relationship with his superior as a means of gathering information on his activities. Philippe's character, taken under the wing of his colleague and even welcomed into his home, then struggles with his own betrayal of their friendship. Meanwhile, sworn to secrecy and unable to tell his wife of what is happening, he finds his own marriage under stress as her trust of him starts to crumble.
Another strong theme in this film is religion, for the spy Robert Hanssen is portrayed as a devout Roman Catholic, although other activities in which he is involved belie the integrity of his statement "God expects you to live your faith". His young colleague is a lapsed Catholic and this serves to personalize their relationship as the younger couple is invited to join him and his wife at mass and later at their home. In this area, however, the viewer is left to draw his own conclusions as to the relevance or otherwise of the main character's religiosity.
A fascinating tale, aided by Chris Cooper's magnetic central performance.