Just when you're thinking every new American film belongs in the Bomb quad, along comes Breach to win one for our side. Put Chris Cooper in he running pronto for next year's Best Actor Oscar. He's electrifying s Robert Hanssen, the FBI agent, Opus Dei Roman Catholic, devoted amily man, lover of strippers and rabid porn buff — he makes videos of imself boffing his wife (Kathleen Quinlan) — who, until 2001, spent wenty-two years selling secrets to the Russians, including the identities f spies in their midst who were killed on his intel.
irector and o-writer Billy Ray, who detailed the misconduct of journalist Stephen lass at The New Republic in 2003's Shattered Glass — here raises the takes to life and death, and proves himself a filmmaker of uncommon talent nd ambition. Ryan Phillippe plays Eric O'Neill, the ambitious FBI ovice assigned by his bureau superior Kate Burroughs (Laura Linney, adding ruising wit to a stock character) to get the goods on Hanssen by erving as his D.C. clerk. At first, O'Neill — who worked as a consultant n the film — is told just of the porn angle. Only later is he let in n the extent of Hanssen's crimes.
Spying on a master spy is a alm-sweating challenge, and Ray milks these scenes for maximum suspense. It's a at-and-mouse game played out in drab offices and shabby corridors, hich ace cinematographer Tak Fujimoto lights to capture the bilious nderside of the espionage business. More John le Carre gravity than Ian leming glam, Breach succeeds more tellingly than Robert De Niro's The Good Shepherd at revealing the human and moral toll of choosing betrayal s a vocation.
Phillippe, coming off surprisingly solid work in Flags of Our Fathers and the Oscar-winning Crash, excels at evoking the churning nsides of a man trained to face the wall of Hanssen's darkening ontradictions by showing nothing. Ray avoids psychobabble to explain away anssen. Wise move. In this steadily gripping hothouse of a thriller, It's Cooper — funny, fierce and bug-wild — who gives us a look into the byss.