Reviewed by: Darren Amner

Writer/director Billy Ray seems to be inspired by stories about ‘real people’. His first film, Shattered Glass, highlighted the fast rise and steep fall of Stephen Glass’ fraudulent journalistic career.

His new film, Breach, follows the real-life exploits of Eric O’Neil (Ryan Phillippe), a bright F.B.I operative trying to make a name for himself and become a fully-fledged agent within the bureau. Initially O’Neill had hoped that his surveillance work on counter-terrorism would be his ‘winning ticket’; however, he is given an alternative but highly important assignment. He is to go undercover as a clerk to keep tabs on one of the bureau’s most senior agents, Robert Hannsen (Chris Cooper), whom he is told is a sexual deviant.

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O'Neill is told to monitor Hannsen's every move and at first is met with hostility and coldness from his more senior mentor. They engage in quite engaging banter as Hannsen insists O’Neill call him ‘sir’ and ridicules him about the fact that the real reason he isn’t an agent is because he has never seen combat and fired a gun.

O’Neill’s persistence with Hannsen leads Hannsen to discover a new found respect for O’Neill, whose past study of the F.B.I’s computer systems also helps to win him over. It’s not long before he takes more of an interest in O’Neill’s personal life. In turn the more O’Neill gets to know Hannsen the more of a new found respect he has for his ‘new boss’. When he reaches a point where he cannot make sense of this supposed double-life his mentor has he is finally told the truth. Hannsen has been spying and leaking information to the Soviet Union which has caused the death of several agents as well as considerable financial loses to his home country.

In order for Hannsen to be caught in the act of espionage, O’Neill must remain somewhat loyal to his almost father figure - whilst searching his office and car for clues. What plays out is a tense, taught game of cat and mouse as O’Neill tries to uncover the real truth of Hannsen’s disloyalty.

You could describe Breach as a thinking man’s Bourne, as there are few action set-pieces but intense mind-games, a game of human chess if you will. Both actors are at the top of their game. Most plaudits will go to Cooper for his portrayal of Hannsen - some are even talking about an Oscar nod. However, as good as Cooper is - and believe me, he is excellent - he needs a worthy adversary going toe to toe with him and Ryan Phillippe is the man for the job. Often criticised for not having the acting chops to stand up to his older co-stars Phillippe carries himself admirably. Both are extremely engaging on screen and although the film is a little long the strength of their performances carry your attention and keep you fixated on the screen.

Billy Ray is a great film maker – not known for his stylistic flair, but he sure can write and chooses interesting tales about real people. At times there is no better source material and with Shattered Glass and now Breach this has clearly been proven.

Breach has been released as part of the summer season which is a little unfair to the movie, as it doesn’t have big explosions and massive hype to get it noticed easily. However it does have two of the best performances delivered onscreen for quite a while and it definitely deserves to be seen. Check it out.

Reviewed on: 29 Aug 2007
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A young, ambitious FBI agent is ordered to spy on his boss, who the organisation believe has been betraying his country for 20 years.
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Read more Breach reviews:

Jeff Robson ****
Moominkat ***

Director: Billy Ray

Writer: Adam Mazer, William Rotko, Billy Ray

Starring: Chris Cooper, Ryan Phillippe, Laura Linney, Dennis Haysbert, Caroline Dhavernas, Kathleen Quinlan, Gary Cole, Bruce Davison

Year: 2007

Runtime: 110 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US


EIFF 2007

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