Thursday, September 06, 2007

BREACH - intelligent character-driven drama

Pray for meRubbish poster, great film.

Chris Cooper is outstanding in capturing the enigmatic and contradictory nature of FBI lifer and Soviet-run mole, Robert Hanssen. On one level, Hanssen is an eerily straight-laced man. He attends mass daily, hates women who wear trousers and homosexuals, and loves his country. But Hanssen is running a seamier double-life, where he sells porn films starring his own wife and harbours ludicrous fantasies about Catherine Zeta Jones. He has also been giving the Soviets highly sensitive classified information for the past twenty-odd years. My theory - after a life-long fascination with the Cambridge spies - is that all moles are driven by frustrated arrogance - and Hanssen, as depicted here, conforms with that view. At bottom, their decisions seem less to do with ideology than with vanity and the belief that their own superior intelligence gives them the right to break the rules. In Hanssen's case, he feels his career has been stunted by office politics, and that he is almost doing the US a favour by exposing the weakness of their security systems. And after all, isn't it fun playing a game in which you have everyone fooled?

As foils for Chris Cooper's brilliance, we have Ryan Philippe playing Eric O'Neill, the young wannabe agent who was assigned to keep tabs on Hanssen and eventually brought him in. Philippe plays a similar sort of role to those in FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS and CRASH. He is always convincing as the quiet young man of integrity who has to face up to the fact that the institutions he grew up believing in are not as peaches and cream as he thought. Laura Linney and Dennis Haysbert are little more than age-appropriate delivery devices.

What I love about this film is its patient expositon of all the facets of Hanssen's character and its unwillingness to trim everything down to a clear answer. This adult attitude is evident even in small choices. Early on, the usually grim-faced Hanssen walks past a car in a parking garage and gives a wry smile. The name plate above the car is of Louis Freeh. There is no attempt to explain to the audience who this is. It's assumed that we've all read a newspaper and get the significance.

It's also a real triumph that although we know how the story ends, BREACH is always suspenseful and tense. Writer-director Billy Ray has done a great job.

BREACH went on release in the USA, Israel, Hungary, Singapore, Iceland, South Africa, Poland, Turkey, Australia, Italy, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Kuwait, Russia, Greece, Brazil and Mexico earlier this year. It is currently on release in the UK and opens in Spain on October 11th and in Germany on October 18th 2007.

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