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4.3 out of 5 stars43
4.3 out of 5 stars
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on 1 May 2008
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.
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VINE VOICEon 3 March 2008
What a brilliant film, saw this just a few days ago and to be honest I wasn't really expecting a whole lot from it. After only seeing the first 20 mins I had completely changed my mind and knew that this was going to be engaging, entertaining and intelligent.

Chris Cooper is superb as a rogue FBI agent Robert Hanssen while Ryan Phillipe is captivating as the new kid on the block brought in to keep an eye on him.

If you like thrillers and intelligent films then this is certainly for you and is certainly made more interesting knowing that the events in the film are based on reality. This isn't a glitzy hollywood bombs and car chase film this is the tension building thriller that has a good story to tell with characters that you care about. I recommend this film very highly.
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on 23 February 2008
For me Chris Cooper is one of America's greatest actors. Often playing second billing to other stars, this film provides him the ideal opportunity to show his acting skills.

Robert Hanssen is an FBI agent who spied for the Russians in the 1980's and again later in the late 1990s. A peculiar character, with apparently strict Jesuit beliefs, he betrayed more than 50 US agents, leading to at least two being assassinated by the Russians.

A junior FBI trainee (Ryan Phillippe) is assigned to spy on him. The film focuses on the relationship between the two men, with the younger agent in awe of the man he is supposed to expose.

An intelligent story based on true events, this is cinema at its very best. Cooper sparkles as the canny Hanssen and Phillippe provides a credible performance as the rookie. The pining wife seemed a tad overplayed (clearly for dramatic effect), but this doesn't distract from a riveting story.

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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 7 September 2009
OK - so let's look at why this film shouldn't be as superb as it is ...

(1) The first few minutes tell you how it's all going to end, so you know what's going to happen even before the main film starts.
(2) There is virtually no action whatsoever in the sense of chases, fights etc. There's a mildly tense scene near the end in a wood at night when a gun is fired, but apart from that - nothing.
(3) The film is mostly dialogue between the two main characters played by Chris Cooper and Ryan Phillippe, with some other important dialogue such as that between Ryan Phillippe and Laura Linney or Ryan Phillipe and Caroline Dhavernas.

So the film should be dull or even boring - but it isn't. Absolutely not. It grabs you from the start and draws you in deeper and deeper as tension builds and you come to care about every single character - even the villain of the piece who is played with intensity and depth by Chris Cooper. The final visual of the film, as lift doors close, is one that you won't forget in a hurry.

I also recommend watching two particular special features on the DVD which explore both the film-making process and the anatomy of a character. They really do show you how exact the film-makers were when it came to getting everything just right: All the people who, in real life, were involved in tracking down the traitor, were not only interviewed but also shown taking part behind the cameras during the filming. Things were done so carefully that the actress playing one character actually wore a copy of the wedding ring worn by the person who had been involved for real in the events being portrayed.

And yet this is not a mere 'True Crime' retelling of events - it is a dramatic film based on a wonderful script with an ensemble of superb actors and actresses. I'd class it as being genuinely 'unmissable'.
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on 9 December 2008
A spy thriller without any action yet an interesting tale of 2 men in the midst of america's greatest traitor case in recent times. Im not going to describe the story in detail but I just wanna point out the outstanding performance from Cooper. An actor usually associated with similar roles to this but never given a lead role to show the depth he can bring to roles and characters like 'amoral agent' types like Rob Hanssen. The final scene in the elevator where O Neil sheepishly stares at the man he betrayed is truly memorable and i give this 9/10.

The single blemish is Phillipe's acting at times which can be hammy. It looks sometimes like hes told to act a certain way sometimes rather than getting into character and portraying, as opposed to acting a role...I guess thats what a director is there for but it adds to a movie if the characters empathise with their roles in my opinion. Classic case of the ol generic good looking guy/girl 'we'll make him a star' casting.

Great story carries everyone through. I wasnt really excited by the plot outline before watching because i thought it would be a stereotypical political thriller but its a movie more about characters and their complexities and role conflicts than an indictment of spying or anything. GIVE IT A CHANCE and watch it. 9/10
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on 4 September 2010
In the 1950s, British intelligence was penetrated and effectively gutted by Soviet agents. The most famous of them was Kim Philby. Before his discovery and subsequent disappearance behind the Iron Curtain, Philby had been a mentor to the American, James Jesus Angleton, who later became the chief spy hunter for the CIA. Angleton devoted the remainder of his career to a relentless, sometimes ruthless and ultimately fruitless hunt for a Soviet mole whom he believed had penetrated the American intelligence establishment. In the 1990s, the FBI's Robert Hannsen was, in some ways, a pallid and lesser version of Angleton who also conducted a fruitless hunt for the Soviet, then Russian mole. He, himself, of course, was that mole.

These deplorable events have been a godsend to novelists and movie makers. John LeCarre wrote a very good book about a British spy catcher named Smiley's successful hunt for a Philby-like mole in "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy." With Alec Guinness as Smiley, it became a truly brilliant TV mini-series. Some years later, LeCarre took another bite of the same apple with "A Perfect Spy." This time the (entirely too) sympathetic focus was on the spy himself and the anguish he felt as the spy hunters slowly drew the noose on his traitorous neck. The mini-series was OK but a great falling off from "Tailor, Tinker." Angleton's agony, much softened, was the core around which the recent film, "The Good Shepherd" was built.

Hannsen's story is told in "Breach." The movie was, I gather, based on a memoir by Eric O'Neill, who participated in the final take-down of Hannsen. And that is the problem with the film. Instead of LeCarre who, for all his faults, is a gifted and keen observer of the human condition as well as a master story teller, we have O'Neill, who is a ... gofer. He was brought into the case because the spy hunters knew that Hansen would size him up in these Shakespearean terms: "a slight unmeritable man, / Meet to be sent on errands... / A barren-spirited fellow; one that feeds / On objects, arts and imitations / Which out of use and stal'd by other men / Begin his fashion: do not talk of him / but as property." Throughout most of his contact with Hannsen, O'Neill's superiors didn't feel any need to tell him what he was actually doing. When the adults actually got around to letting him know, his greatest service seems to have been talking Hannsen into driving rather than walking to work.

On the other hand, if O'Neill is the problem, the glory of the film is Chris Cooper. If ever a journeyman actor was given a break-out part, it was Hannsen and Cooper was the actor. Going into the theater, I had no idea who Cooper was. As soon as he appeared on screen, my reaction was, "Oh, that guy." Walking out of the place, I thought of "Breach" as a Chris Cooper movie. I can only hope that producers have enough sense to develop good character roles for this fine actor.

There is some talk that the film shows that Ryan Philippe is an actor as well as a pretty face. Forget it. Careers are not built on portraying gofers.

Laura Linney was OK as O'Neill's boss, but she was miscast. Hannsen's nemesis should have been a match for him, an American Judy Dench--a Kathy Bates. Against Cooper-Hannsen's heavyweight traitor, Linney was no more than a lightweight--and Philippe hardly a flyweight.

This is a film designed to do well on DVD. There is a hunched-in feel about it. For all intents and purposes the story is told in one- and two-shots. There is never a feel of spaciousness. If an expanse of freeway is photographed, just to take one example, it is a freeway immobilized with a traffic jam. A cityscape is apt to be shot jammed up against a building facade. Night scenes manage to look just like backlot sets.

An earlier Amazon US reviewer lamented that "there is nothing mind blowing about this movie. There are some thrills, but I would wait to catch this one on DVD." He was entirely right. Because of Cooper, this is actually a pretty good movie for adults.
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on 4 July 2010
Based on the true story of Robert Hanssen, a 58 year old middle ranking FBI agent who in February 2001 was charged with espionage after selling classified information to the Russians, Breach is an account of the series of events which led up to the exposure of the worst case of treason in the history of U.S intelligence.
Told from the point of view of Eric O'Neill, a young ambitious junior officer anxious to become a full FBI agent, who is recruited by FBI investigators to gather information on Hanssen, who he is told is secretly under investigation as a sexual deviant. Assigned to Hanssen under the guise of his new personal assistant, all O'Neill finds is a highly opinionated, boastful and often bigoted man who is also devoutly religious. Questioning his role in what he sees as a pointless investigation on a man who is due to retire in a years' time, O'Neill is told the truth about a continual flow of espionage which they believe has gone back over 15 years.
The film is unusual in the sense that the outcome is revealed within 30 seconds of the start of the film, and the story then retells the previous two years leading up to Hanssen's arrest. Much like Director Billy Ray's previous film 'Shattered Glass' the story is essentially about ego and how a man passed over for higher profile jobs found other means of making himself feel important and as someone who matters. This is a gently paced thriller which bypasses any over the top action scenes and relies purely on the strength of the story and its lead characters. A Well written and directed thriller with great acting and thoroughly engaging from start to end.
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on 3 September 2009
The central character in this movie, the traitor himself, is a totally fascinating person: nasty, barbed, mean and cruel. If this is indeed true to life, then it is a wonder that he was not uncovered much earlier. You would think that it would not take much to convict a traitor, but the FBI eventually have to spend millions of dollars and waste tens-of-thousands of FBI manhours to nail him. This is a very ejoyable movie: well acted, directed and scripted. It deserved to do better at the box office. Much of it will leave you open-jawed in rapt astonishment as the tale unfolds.
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on 7 August 2014
Heard about this DVD after reading the Robert Hanssen spying case elsewhere and watching the Youtube Hanssen content - which is quite extensive. The DVD was compelling enough to watch in one sitting and there is good build up of tension. Where there is existing historical FBI or CCTV video, the film has gone to some lengths to recreate the scenes as closely as possible.
The suspicious FBI get Eric O'Neill to work under Hanssen as his assistant in an attempt to create a personal relationship and break into his secretive lifestyle. Hanssen turns out to be something of an early tablet geek and kept document drop dates and incriminating information on his Palm III PDA, which never left his side. Until the day came that they manufactured a situation which separated him from it for brief time so they could read its content.
The film's storyline is actually mostly created around the difficult experiences of Eric O'Neill and his family which arose as he worked with Hanssen and we get little about Hanssen himself apart from his weird autocratic management style (think Dr. Strangelove). So the film is mostly silent about his personal life and cranky ideology that can be found elsewhere. I assume much is still classified.
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I streamed this as it sounded interesting and also had Ryan Philippe in it whom I quite like. It is based on the true story of Robert Hanssen who was caught after spying for 25 years and was at the very heart of the FBI - he was though extremely clever.

The story then jumps back two months and we see how rookie Eric O'Neil is assigned to work with him and told to look for the most unusual aspects of everything that his new boss says and does. What pans out is a really taught and well acted piece of film making. Chris Cooper (`August - Osage County') as Hanssen plays it both as `Mr Nasty' and the church loving `born again' Catholic.

Made in 2007 this is a film that has not lost any of its punch but seems to have been mostly ignored - which is a pity as I really enjoyed it and feels it deserves a much wider audience; great acting, great story and great production values - recommended.
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