Breach is a nerve-wracking thriller. Based on a true story, its characters are nearly archetypical, a fact that gives the film, along with its extensive moral ambiguities, haunting power. Here, it's impossible to get away from the big themes: religion, sexuality, psychology, and professionalism are at full and merciless play.
The film is plot and character-driven, without any special effects gloss. Most of it consists of dialogue between Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper) and Eric O'Neill (Ryan Phillippe). O'Neill is assigned to keep tabs on Hanssen, providing detailed reports to Kate Burroughs (Laura Linney). Mysterious deadlines loom, and Hanssen, a veteran of Cold War politics, is a tad suspicious of all the goings-on. Hanssen and O'Neill move from room to room, situation to situation; each scene adds a layer of suspense. Further, both men have intriguing and complex moral selves. These selves are illuminated via startling combinations of beliefs and personality traits.
Cooper is amazing as Hanssen. To my mind, he's one of the most fascinating of today's male screen personas, communicating a visible emotional depth and intensity that's fraught with ragged edges. Ryan Phillippe subtly and thoroughly transforms himself through mannerism, voice, and expression. Linney's Burroughs is, on the surface, as hard as nails; a more complicated personality is suggested when she delivers a few moments of much-needed humor, without which the film would be unbearable.
Director Billy Ray has made a film that's polished from start to finish. He and the screenwriters tell the story dispassionately, clinically; they give it an ambiance of objectivity but delay final revelations and easy summaries. Tak Fujimoto's photography is just right, particularly during that bridge sequence, when we get a sense of how quietly and in what solitude people can be betrayed. As a whole, the film has a fascinating, music-like structure.
The whole thing is unforgettable, and the extras on the DVD are great. Plunge into the suspense, but have a comedy ready to watch afterwards.