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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Breach

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Jacqueline Monahan

Breach

Las Vegas Round The Clock - http://www.lasvegasroundtheclock.com
Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
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Based on the true story of FBI operative, Robert Hanssen, Breach depicts the final stages of the Herculean effort it took to apprehend the man. He’s a 25 year veteran of the Bureau, with 22 of those spent selling classified information to the former Soviet Union. Aside from endangering lives, exposing undercover agents and, in at least three instances, causing the execution of informants, Hanssen (Academy Award winner Chris Cooper) has caused inestimable damage to U.S. operations at home and abroad.

Hanssen’s title is Asst. Specialist to the Asst. Director for Information Assurance, which takes up three lines on the sign outside his door. It is as bogus as his entire windowless office suite. The whole setup is an elaborate ruse so that he can be continually monitored. It’s taking a long time to capture this guy, and it has to be done flawlessly. Over 500 agents and operatives are working to put an end to Hanssen’s long and infamous career. Gary Cole and Dennis Haysbert are on this team in small supporting roles.

The Bureau knows disturbing facts about Hanssen. He is a sexual deviant with a penchant for strippers and for videotaping his own activity with his wife, Bonnie (Kathleen Quinlan). Yes, that kind of activity. Pornographic material fills his hard drive – no pun intended. Despite this, he is the image of a straight-laced, ultra-conservative, declaring that women in pantsuits bother him. Right away, I wanted a woman to bring him down, but had to settle for Special Agent Eric O’Neill (Ryan Phillippe) who is admittedly pretty enough.

O’Neill covets full agent status so much that his wife Juliana (Caroline Dhavernas) uses the phrase as a form of foreplay. “You’re an agent,” she coos, and O’Neill responds as if the words were an aphrodisiac. He is a trainee assigned to low level surveillance work on suspected terrorist activity when he is tapped to be Hanssen’s planted clerk. Early into the film, I was distracted by an unexplained bump on the left side of Phillippe’s forehead and wondered if he didn’t have a little encounter with former wife Reese’s rolling pin during their pre-separation days. It would have been good preparation for this role, which calls for his character to be verbally emasculated on a regular basis by the pompous Hansen.

“Your name is not Eric,” seethes Hanssen, “it is clerk. Mine is sir or boss.” It sums up his superior mindset and contemptuous demeanor. He can wither O’Neill with a steely glare. Hanssen hones in on minute details like a cobra sizing up its prey. Who’s been in his office? His briefcase? He doesn’t have to see it to know it. He gradually takes a grudging interest in O’Neill, due to some shared circumstances between the two men.

O’Neill’s direct supervisor, Kate Burroughs (played by a no-nonsense Laura Linney) gives him a pager to which he must be tethered “24/7”. Enslaved by his gadget, he awaits instructions and demands from Burroughs to provide her with “pages”, detailed accounts of every Hanssen-based interaction and activity. Searches of Hanssen’s car and Palm Pilot place O’Neill in a pivotal role, and he displays a stunning talent for manipulating his formidable boss.

Breach drew me into its web of deceit, thanks to Cooper’s compelling character study of a devout, complex and corrupt hypocrite. As the traitorous Robert Hanssen, he is alternately sinister and sympathetic, turning his morality on and off at will. Phillippe does a masterful job of alternating subservience and real fear (tinged with pity) of and for the man whose downfall he will help to bring about. The internal FBI operations are fascinating to observe. The real Eric O’Neill was a consultant on the film, and no doubt was a rich source of factual material.

Billy Ray (Shattered Glass) directs with an understated urgency. This is a quiet film, barely marred by violence of any kind. Aside from some flashback gunshots, (and a few paranoid ones late in the film) only trust and integrity are savaged. There is tension and suspense, and plenty of slick maneuvering by Hanssen, who, as the saying goes, operates with the “absolute power [that] corrupts absolutely”.

Most people’s ideas of espionage come from images of James Bond, Maxwell Smart, and Austin Powers. Visions of secret passageways and high tech gadgetry flourish. The reality is a good deal more mundane. As Breach reveals, drab offices, fluorescent lights, and outdated computers far outnumber shoe phones or pen-sized weapons. Fabulous babes are replaced by well-meaning wives. The grandfather sitting next to you in church just might be the one to start WWIII; and then we’d all better pray.