This is a jaw-dropper of a movie, based on the true story of Robert Hanssen, an FBI agent who was caught and charged with 15 counts of espionage just two months before his retirement in 2001. The FBI charges a wannabee agent, Eric O'Neill, with becoming Hanssen's clerk, in order that they can trail, track, record, and bring Hanssen to justice.

Hanssen is played boldly and sympathetically by Cooper, who brings this immensely complex character to life. A devout Catholic who attends church everyday and prays regularly, Hanssen has a caring side — his love for his grandchildren, and compassion to O'Neills father's illness, which gives him a human edge and the viewer reason to empathise with him. His faith, however, has made him both homophobic and sexist, disapproving of women who wear trousers or "pant suits", along with a "sexual deviance" of distributing movies of he and his wife making love, without her knowledge. A true example of paranoia being justified, the FBI had been trying to pin this mole down for decades.

FBI agent Kate Burroghs (Linney), living on meals-for-one without even a cat for company, convinces O'Neill (Phillippe) to win Hanson's trust as his clerk, and help bring him to justice. In doing so, O'Neill's marriage suffers, and his morals and ethics put to the test as a bond between the men grow. Phillippe, who I asumed to be too diluted to take on such a role, never falters, giving a solid, believable performance. His wife, Juliana (Dhavernas) has to cope with the inevitable lies that come with being married to an FBI nearly-agent, and her husband's new boss and his wife, whose mission in life is to convert lapse Protestant Juliana to their faith of fanaticism.

The whole film feels entirely understated given the enormity of its subject matter. As a viewer I had to take a couple of moments at the end to gather my thoughts and emotions, and try to justify the grief I felt. The script is seamless, giving these exceptional actors the tools to produce progressive and deep characters, and I didn't feel an overwhelming undercurrent of American patriotism, as I expected I would. All the more heartwrenching as a true story, this movie repeats on your memory afterwards like a lost dream. Truly thought provoking, and beautifully told.

Breach at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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