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Breach (3/10)

by Tony Medley

Being an FBI Agent is mostly slow, detailed, boring, monotonous, tedious work, which aptly describes watching this film about how FBI traitor Robert Hanssen was caught.

Eric O’Neill (Ryan Philippe) is training to be a Special Agent with the FBI. He’s chosen by Kate Burroughs (Laura Linney) to be a spy on Hanssen (Chris Cooper), who is suspected of being a rogue agent. It’s not explained why the FBI needs O’Neill to do what he does because apparently they have all the goods on Hanssen. I guess they wanted their case against him to be iron clad. This is another of those “based on a true story” films, so I didn’t take anything I learned from it to the bank. O’Neill is a real person who worked as an advisor on the film, but that doesn’t mean that what we are watching is what really happened. It’s so slow and boring that it could be pretty accurate.

Director Billy Ray, who did such a terrific job with “Shattered Glass” in 2003, strikes out here. He has taken a mundane script (Adam Mazer and William Rotko and Ray; and probably a lot more as this is a script that clearly never got the final polish it needed; actually, what it needed was to be dumped and a brand new script written, but this parenthetical statement has already grown too long to continue to tell you what I really think about the script except to ask where is William Goldman when we really need him?) and made a film that is less entertaining than just reading the script might be, and that is really saying something.

There is the obligatory story of the long-suffering wife, Juliana O’Neill (Caroline Dhavernas), who just doesn’t understand the secret work her husband is doing and which is wrecking their marriage. How many times have we seen that story line?

In order to create tension, Ray has inserted scenes that are nothing if not derivative. O’Neill has to get the info off of Hanssen’s PDA, so Hanssen is sent to have his picture taken while O’Neill purloins the data. But, hark! Hanssen gets disgusted with the picture-taking and decides to go back to the office sooner than expected. We see him walking back. We see O’Neill trying to complete the job… Hanssen walking back….complete the job…walking back; gosh, my heart was beating so! Then the FBI wants to go over Hanssen’s car with a fine tooth comb, so O’Neill takes him on another wild goose chase while they take it apart. Zounds! Hanssen decides to return early…again! Will they get the car put back together and back in the parking lot before Hanssen and O’Neill return? Be still my heart!

I would have thought Ray would be up to this, considering the wonderful movie he made out of “Shattered Glass.” But clearly this needed something that Ray couldn’t provide. Probably the problem is that there just isn’t a story here. The moral is clear: if there’s no cinematic value to a story, don’t make a movie out of it.

February 15, 2007