Rainy Day Movie is a feature here on Living With a Nerd that provides short insights into movies and series that you should save for a rainy day. In this edition of Rainy Day Movie we look at Breach, a film based on the true story of Robert Hanssen.
Breach follows the story of a young FBI employee who has been selected to work undercover as a clerk in order to investigate Robert Hanssen, a widely-respected FBI agent who is suspected of selling state secrets to Russia. Because this film is based on such a high-profile case, it really is interesting to be privy to what went on behind closed doors. With an all star cast that includes Chris Cooper, Ryan Phillippe, Laura Linney, Dennis Haysbert (of 24 and Allstate commercial fame), and Caroline Dhavernas (star of Wonderfalls, one of the best shows ever), Breach is filled to the brim with acting talent.
Chris Cooper and Ryan Phillippe give, in my opinion, the best performance of their careers in this film. Cooper’s brooding, calculating, and fully believable portrayal of Robert Hanssen is so good it’s creepy. Phillippe, on the other hand, portrays a young but ambitious guy trying to work his way up in the agency. While he isn’t someone that can be walked all over, he tends to approach things passively. Given that Philleppe portrays Eric O’Neill, a man that got his start in surveillance, the character’s passive approach makes sense. The on-screen chemistry between Cooper and Phillippe is fantastic. Many scenes have a “fly on the wall” feel to them; sitting in on the conversations between these two is a real treat. Their ability to jump from compassion to disdain for each other within a single scene really helps bring the characters to life.
Laura Linney and Dennis Haysbert portray folks leading the investigation of Hanssen. They both bring a lot of acting experience to the table, and at some points even steal the spotlight from Cooper and Phillippe. While the characters they portray don’t give them much to work with in terms of creativity, they do a good job of portraying people that have to sacrifice much of their private life for their professional life. This is explored more with Linney’s character, but even though it goes unmentioned, Haysbert still has an underlying “this isn’t my entire life” surrounding his character. Dhavernas doesn’t have too big of a role as Phillippe’s wife, but she plays her role well. Her portrayal of the struggle with understanding her husband’s job while being frustrated by it is quite convincing.
There is also substantial technical talent, with Tak Fujimoto in charge of cinematography and Billy Ray sitting in the director’s chair (as well as helping to pen the screenplay). Camera angles are mostly static and positioned from an “observer” viewpoint. With the exception of scenes involving the main character’s families, colors throughout the film are washed out. The whole world feels dead, which gives the viewer a good understanding of just how big of an issue this film deals with. Despite the big-budget feel, Breach is essentially a really well done feature-length reenactment.
With amazing acting, a gloomy and dull color palette, an intelligent script, and a slowish pace, Breach is a great movie for watching on a lazy rainy day. Just make sure you pause it if you happen to get up; you won’t want to miss a second.