Movie Review: Breach

February is one of the worst months to find a movie in theaters worth watching. This time of year they’re usually full of boring Oscar contenders and other movies the studios don’t have much faith in. Fortunately for movie goers someone decided to release a thrilling spy movie that will probably go down as one of the best movies of 2007. Breach is based on the true story of FBI agent Robert Hansen (Chris Cooper) who spied for the Russians and was considered responsible for the worst security breaches in U.S. History. Eric O’Neil (Ryan Phillippe) is new to the bureau and is hoping to make Agent. He’s assigned to be an assistant to Hansen and reports to a senior agent about every movement Hansen makes.

Even though we learn in the first minute of the film what Hansen did and that he eventually gets caught, Breach is still a thrilling movie. The excitement doesn’t come from car chases or explosions but from the intense physiological drama that is played out between Hansen and O’Neil. Despite his best attempts to earn Hansen’s trust, O’Neil can’t figure his boss out and must continually remember what lies he’s told to Hansen.

Hansen, who loves to be in control, thinks the FBI or some government agency is on to him but can’t be sure. He does his best to keep his assistant off balance by doing things like showing up at O’Neil’s house unexpectedly for dinner and trying to convert O’Neil’s Protestant wife to Catholicism. The tension mounts because we never know just how much Hansen trusts O’Neil or how aware he is of the ongoing investigation.

Phillippe does a wonderful job of portraying someone who is in way over his head. You can’t help but feel for him as the burden of staying one step a head of Hansen spills over into his marriage and strains his relationship with his wife (Caroline Dhavernas).

But it’s Cooper’s acting that is top-notch. He does an excellent job of making his character believable and someone we actually care about. Even though we’re glad Hansen is caught at the end of the film the audience can’t help but feel sorry for him when the consequences of his actions finally catch up with him.

Some views may be frustrated at the ending of the film as it offers no clear-cut explanation for Hansen’s actions. However, the real life Hansen has yet to give any reason for spying and this forces director Billy Ray to hint at many plausible, character-based motivations as to why Hansen started working for the bad guys.

Breach is a movie that goes by quickly. It’s a must see for those who enjoy strong character-based movies and those looking for some needed pre-summer blockbuster entertainment.

Abel’s Rating: A