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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Suspenseful and Enthralling
by Diana Saenger

In 2002 I watched the TV movie Master Spy:The Robert Hanssen Story starring William Hurt and written by Norman Mailer. While I was intrigued by the real life story of one of America's most brazen FBI agents who over 20 years sold our national intelligence secrets to the Russians, the TV film seemed lackluster. Fortunately, that can't be said of Breach, a tight, involving thriller that covers more elements than the TV movie and is enhanced by Chris Cooper's mesmerizing performance as Hanssen.

Eric O'Neill (Ryan Phillippe), an agent-in-training, realizes he has a long way to go before handling top assignments. When his boss, Kate Burroughs (Laura Linney), brings him in for a special assignment to work as a clerk for Agent Robert Hanssen and find out if he's a sexual predator, Eric's beyond excitement.

After days go by, things don't add up and Eric is not exactly sure why he has to shadow this arrogant, rigid and unfriendly man. He finally tells Kate he wants off the case. When she reveals that Hanssen may be the most treasonous agent the United States has ever had and responsible for the deaths of other agents, it becomes clear to Eric why heís needed to get evidence on Hanssen. He agrees to stay on the job -- but soon realizes he's in way over his head.

Director Billy Ray, who brought the highly intriguing Shattered Glass (we'll forgive him for Flightplan) to the screen, guides moviegoers through the captivating story of how O'Neill worked every minute in fear for his life. Somewhat naive in the beginning, he learns that Hanssen is methodical in every move he makes. While Hanssen seems to befriend Eric by telling him how to handle his marriage and how the Catholic religion is the only right one, Eric learns through his superiors that this is a dangerous man who could kill him if he gets any hint the clerk is trying to set him up.

Particularly tough on Eric is his new marriage to Juliana (Caroline Dehavernas). When his job begins to involve nights, weekends and even a visit to Hanssen's for dinner and a demand appearance at the Hanssen's Catholic Church, Juliana is not happy. Eric can't reveal to her why all this is happening, and his stress builds.

Another reason the film comes across as so enthralling is that real life FBI agent (no longer an agent) Eric O'Neill assisted in the production of Breach, and filmmakers had the cooperation of the FBI. Although some things were still classified since Hanssen was arrested, charged with committing espionage and is serving a life sentence, he may still be questioned from time to time.

O'Neill starting working with Billy Ray early on the project. "With the classified information, I couldnít tell them a lot of stuff," said O'Neill. "But once Billy started talking to the FBI, he'd call me and Iíd debrief him, and the FBI de-classified some things for the movie."

The film couldn't have worked so well without actors who understood the dynamics between Hanssen and O'Neill. Cooper (Seabiscuit), who won the role hands down even though top actors fought for it, said, "I think the day of our introduction was the nicest I was to Ryan, and I preferred to keep it that way. And that's the same method I used to work with Jake Gyllenhaal in October Sky. It didn't call for a chummy atmosphere on the set, and that was fine for Ryan and necessary for me."

Phillippe (Flags of Our Fathers) said, "I was really nervous screen testing with Chris Cooper because I idolize the guy. I think that actually helped me in some ways when you are playing this part."

Chris Cooper knew he wanted this role immediately. "As a rule it usually takes three or four readings for me to be interested in a script, and if Iím interested Iíll read it three or four times before I make a strong decision. This was unusual, it took one reading."

Other actors who play key roles in creating a fascinating movie include Linney (Kinsey) as the tough senior agent who feels this breach of trust on her country as a personal attack and Dennis Haysbert as Special Agent Dean Plesac, part of the team out to catch Hanssen.

Cooper, an Oscar winner for Adaptation, ranks as one of our finest actors and doesn't miss a beat in the Jekyll and Hyde personality of Robert Hanssen. He makes it easy to understand what O'Neill is going through.

Even though you know what happens in the end, this movie about trust and betrayals keeps you on the edge of your seat the entire time.

(Released by Universal Pictures and rated "PG-13" for violence, sexual content and language.)

Review also posted at

Click here to read Diana's interview with the cast and crew of Breach.

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