One of the magic tricks of cinema is being able to take a real-life event and translate it to the silver screen in a way that provides ample thrills despite knowing the ending. Screenwriter Billy Ray has showcased a skill for adapting stories like Richard Jewell or Captain Phillips successfully, but those who disregard his directorial output are missing out on the skills he has sharpened behind the camera. His feature directorial debut Shattered Glass took a tale about fabricated newspaper stories and made it as compelling as any high-stakes drama. With his 2007 sophomore feature Breach, he tackled a real-life story where the stakes were significantly higher but handled with just as much care. In 2001 FBI agent Robert Hanssen was convicted of spying for the Soviet Union and Russia for more than two decades. The extent of the damage his actions caused is difficult to calculate, but this film elegantly tackles the psychology of the man who perpetrated these acts and how he finally met his downfall.
Our entryway to this story is Eric O’Neill (Ryan Phillippe, Cruel Intentions), a hotshot young FBI employee with big ambitions to become an agent. One day he gets recruited by a division of the FBI to go undercover to ascertain information about senior agent Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper, Adaptation), who he has been told is suspected of sexual harassment and deviancy. What O’Neill is not told at first is Hanssen is actually suspected of being a traitor to the country and they need evidence to bring him down. O’Neill goes undercover as Hanssen’s new clerk, but the elder agent does not seem to fit the bill of who you would picture as a spy. Hanssen is reserved and standoffish, but he is also incredibly devoted to his Catholicism and his family. As O’Neill gets drawn in by the seemingly misunderstood Hanssen, he finds himself questioning if he is on the right side of things.
One of the great strengths of Breach is the assured writing and directing from Billy Ray. Whereas some creative figures might feel the need to artificially ratchet up the drama, Ray chooses to let the events speak for themselves. The drama unfolds in a very analytical manner which sets aside personal indignation for something more believable. The visual palette is reserved and uninspired, but it goes towards matching the lifestyle projected by the “everyman” Hanssen. This senior agent thrived in an environment where being bland meant you were overlooked, for better or for worse. As played by Cooper, Hanssen presents as your typical office worker who has been passed over for promotions in favor of colleagues who lack his skills but dazzle more in the personality department. This is not a “sexy” movie where the spycraft has the figure jetting all over the world to exotic locales, but more damage is done from inside the belly of Washington than anywhere else. Ray strips the Hollywood gloss away and reveals a deftly made, realistic thriller.
Chris Cooper is an actor who has made a living offering consistently great performances on the fringes of every movie to which he commits himself. Phillippe may be our gateway into the story, but Cooper is the reason we stay glued to the screen. He keeps his composure nearly all the way through the film, but the few moments he drops his guard leaves a mark. Phillippe is not the most dynamic figure, but he does a decent job for what this role demands. His cluelessness to his initial assignment is elevated by the relatively blank expression by the performer. The ensemble put forth a stellar effort all around with Laura Linney (The Squid and the Whale) matching Cooper in excellence despite never sharing a scene together. Ray does not attempt to offer deep insights into why Hanssen did what he did, which makes the lingering impact of the work feel that much more immediate. This is a thoughtfully crafted adult thriller which delivers in all the ways you would want.
Breach gets a decent Blu-Ray courtesy of Mill Creek Entertainment, but with it comes issues that lessen the overall quality. The transfer is sourced from a reasonably solid older master provided by Universal Pictures that appears nearly identical to the preexisting Universal release. The biggest issue with this disc is not the occasional speck of damage to the print, but rather the digital look that plagues most of the film while betraying the naturally filmic qualities. The presentation provides some fine textural detail, but there is no question the transfer has been smoothed over with digital tools. The resulting image loses much of the precise detail found in the beautiful photography. The colors are one of the more lackluster aspects of the disc with most appearing a bit dull and depressed, which does match the bleak tone of the story. Skin tones look a bit on the pasty side, but the presentation offers up some fairly deep black levels. The disc experiences an extremely minimal of black crush, but nothing overly problematic. Mill Creek Entertainment has provided a Blu-Ray disc that is pleasant enough, but not a home run thanks to digital tinkering with the master.
Mill Creek Entertainment brings us this new Blu-Ray with a lossless DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix that is perfectly representative of the film. The dialogue holds up quite nicely, coming though clearly without being stepped on by the score or sound effects. The ambient details are delineated nicely and given a dynamic placement throughout the speakers. The sounds of a bustling office or a busy highway, along with a slew of other sounds, bring nuanced life to the rear speakers. The movie features a pleasing score which sounds great within the mix. This is a track that suits the material quite accurately. A truly pleasing experience.
There are no special features provided on this disc.
Breach is an incredibly compelling adult drama which makes real-life events feel like a mystery in the most thrilling of ways. The performance from Cooper is a knockout in an ensemble which boasts very few weak links. Mill Creek Entertainment has delivered a new Blu-Ray featuring an unspectacular A/V presentation similar to the previous Universal Blu-Ray, now at a budget price. If you find yourself missing solid dramas made for adults then this one should delight. Recommended
Breach is currently available to purchase on Blu-Ray.
Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.
Disclaimer: Mill Creek Entertainment has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.
Dillon is most comfortable sitting around in a theatre all day watching both big budget and independent movies.