- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 15, 2007

Federal agent-turned-traitor Robert Hanssen should make a fine on-screen punching bag. He’s religiously rigid, sexually hypocritical, and, of course, he spent years handing off this country’s deepest secrets to the Russians.

As played by Oscar winner Chris Cooper, Hanssen is all of the above, yet so much more.

It’s why “Breach,” which recounts Hanssen’s last days of freedom, makes for such a rewarding docudrama.

Mr. Cooper doesn’t look a lick like the real Hanssen, but he disappears inside the role until we forget the infamous portrait that accompanied the spy’s arrest.

The actor’s take on Hanssen is villainous, to be sure, but his Hanssen is also whip smart and fused to his own murky ideology.

It’s a role tailor-made for Mr. Cooper, and we wouldn’t be shocked to see his name come up during the fall Oscar campaign.

The film itself isn’t too shabby, either.

“Breach” follows a fledgling FBI agent named Eric O’Neill (Ryan Phillippe, working wonders within his acting range) assigned to follow an agent (Mr. Cooper) suspected of using work computers for sexual purposes.

It’s a mismatch from the start. Hanssen is prone to withering comments, and he wastes no time dressing down his new colleague.

But O’Neill is a fast learner, particularly after his superior (Laura Linney) tells him his true mission. Hanssen is selling government secrets, and it’s O’Neill’s job to force him into the open.

That means more than just swiping the suspected traitor’s Palm Pilot. O’Neill must let Hanssen into his life, to meet his young bride and, in turn, ingratiate himself with Hanssen’s picture-perfect brood. We wish Mrs. Hanssen, played by Kathleen Quinlan, were given more to do here, but the family scenes serve their purpose.

The pair’s relationship deepens as Hanssen coaxes O’Neill to re-examine his faith, a subplot that illuminates the depths of Hanssen’s cynicism.

The pursuit is more psychological than knuckle-busting, but director-co-writer Billy Ray serves up a few tense sequences to remind us that “Breach” is a thriller. Especially riveting is a scene in which O’Neill must distract Hanssen while FBI agents search his car. Mr. Phillippe conveys a burgeoning intellect that makes such moments credible, despite Mr. Cooper dashing off with the flashier role.

Don’t expect car chases, shootouts or “24”-style tension. Mr. Ray is gunning for something different with “Breach” — an appreciation for what must have been an elaborate case to crack.

The FBI in Mr. Ray’s estimation is, flaws and all, staffed by many brilliant thinkers. Hanssen may have been the smartest of the bunch, a faculty that renders “Breach” hypnotic until its slightly rushed finale.

*** 1/2

TITLE: “Breach”

RATING: PG-13 (Violence, sexual content and adult language)

CREDITS: Directed by Billy Ray. Screenplay by Mr. Ray, Adam Mazer and William Rotko.

RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes

WEB SITE: www.breachmovie.net

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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