Saturday, April 26, 2014

Breach (2007)

Director: Billy Ray                                             Writers: Adam Mazer & William Rotko
Film Score: Mychael Danna                               Cinematography: Tak Fujimoto
Starring: Chris Cooper, Laura Linney, Ryan Phillippe and Bruce Davison

Chris Cooper is one of those stars that should have had much more success than he has managed to accrue thus far in his career. He’s one of my favorite actors and yet has, for the most part, been consigned to supporting roles. Fortunately Breach shows him off to full advantage and he is allowed to exhibit the considerable skills he possesses. The film is based on the true story of FBI agent Robert Hanssen, who was a spy for the Soviet Union for over twenty years and while the real Hanssen had an unassuming, amiable look about him, Cooper brings real menace to the role. But he also has a tremendous supporting cast that includes the multi-Oscar nominated Laura Linney as the head of the task force investigating Cooper, while Ryan Phillippe plays the mole they plant in his office to get the evidence they need to arrest him. In addition, the cast includes Bruce Davison, Gary Cole, Dennis Haysbert and Kathleen Quinlan.

The film begins with Ryan Phillippe on a stakeout, attempting to get incriminating evidence on a possible terrorist. He’s trying to move up in his job at the F.B.I., married to a beautiful wife, and eager to make agent. When he’s pulled off of his assignment and sent in to work for Chris Cooper, he is told to get evidence of Cooper’s pornography addiction, a seemingly low-priority detail after being on anti-terrorism. But when he discovers that Cooper is an ultra-strict Catholic who is as paranoid as he is skilled, it seems inconceivable that he’s involved in something that vulgar. So he meets with task force leader Laura Linney who finally tells him that Cooper is a mole who has been passing on valuable intelligence to the Russians for decades, which resulted in the deaths of numerous double-agents working around the world. This is something altogether different. Suddenly now Phillippe has been thrust into an investigation of vital importance to the country. And Cooper is not someone to be deceived for long.

The film is one of the most suspenseful I’ve ever seen. Despite the seeming inconsequence of failure where Cooper would only go to jail for a few years, there is a palpable sense of mortal danger for Phillippe if he’s caught. At the same time he can’t tell his wife, Caroline Dhavernas, and when the extremely creepy Cooper begins invading their private life she chafes at the intrusion and their relationship deteriorates. Meanwhile, Phillippe learns that Cooper’s home life is just as controlled and paranoid as when he’s at work. Kathleen Quinlan plays his wife and it’s as if she’s in a cult and Cooper’s the leader. At work Cooper is under the thumb of Gary Cole, who came out of law enforcement, and doesn’t like him much but with only a couple years until retirement he can’t do much about it. At one point Phillippe, wanting to quit, goes to his father, Bruce Davison for advice, while Dennis Haysbert plays the agent who is really running the investigation for Linney.

If the film has a weakness among critics it would be Ryan Phillippe’s performance. But it’s difficult to imagine someone doing better. He has also had a couple of other very good performances in Flags of Our Fathers just prior, and The Lincoln Lawyer after. Some of the other criticism has revolved around inaccuracies in the plot. That has never been something that has bothered me in historical dramas. In fact, when it’s done to enhance the plot it almost always makes the film better. And in reality it’s a far more accurate film than something like Argo, which was also great. The performance of the film, however, belongs to Chris Cooper. The menace that he brings to the role and the depth of character that he displays should have earned him an Oscar nomination, but it was a particularly strong field that year--though he was certainly better than Johnny Depp. Breach is a pressure-cooker of a film that delivers suspense and entertainment in large doses, and highly recommended for the brilliant performance of Chris Cooper.

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