What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this fact-based spy thriller probably won't be too appealing to most teens. It features some frank discussion of an FBI agent's supposed "sex perversions," with reference to tapes and Internet porn. There's also lots of deception, fretting about deception, and arguing about deception, as well as discussion of the effects of Hanssen's betrayals, including dead agents and national security breaches. A strictly Catholic agent demeans women in pantsuits (he calls them "Hillary" and "lesbians"). Following a couple of conversations about the FBI being a "gun culture," a tense, angry scene shows one man threatening to shoot another. Some language (one "f--k," plus other profanity like "s--t" and "damn").
What's the story?
BREACH is based on the true story of spy Robert Hanssen, who was arrested in 2001 for treason and sentenced to life in prison. Young agent Eric O'Neill (Ryan Phillippe) is assigned to keep track of Hanssen's movements. Posing as Hanssen's assistant at a new, bogus FBI office, Eric is initially kept in the dark by his superior, Kate Burroughs (Laura Linney). She tells him that Hanssen (Chris Cooper) is suspected of "sexual perversions," which he hides behind a strictly Catholic façade. As Eric is both ambitious and looking for some sort of moral order in the shadowy world of the FBI, he comes to admire Hanssen's seeming adherence to rules and beliefs. Kate sets Eric straight by revealing that Hanssen was responsible for some 20 years' worth of leaks to the Russians, leading to many agents' deaths, and suddenly the young agent sees his part in this monumental takedown as crucial to national security.
Is it any good?
Breach can't seem to get around the mystery that Hanssen presents. The film focuses on Eric and Hanssen's tight, tense association, as each suffers differently for the lies he's forced to tell. Parallel investigations and multiple layers of deceit are galvanized by smart, taut, mostly understated performances. But much as Eric embodies a stalwart, if fretful, morality, Hanssen remains a cipher, apparently untroubled by his lies and hypocrisies. Though Hanssen disdains most FBI regulations, he's adapted well to what he calls the Bureau's "gun culture." And though Eric mocks Hanssen's stiffness, he's also impressed by his sensitivity and religious faith.
Eric's own betrayals appear to be heroic in a traditional sense, yet he feels terrible about his choices. Breach uses some predictable plot structures, including speedy crosscutting during a scene in which Eric must delay Hanssen's return to the office, a sensational showdown in the dark woods, and heavy-handed religious iconography to pass judgment on Hanssen. If only the movie had trusted Cooper's subtle performance, allowing that to convey the suspense.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about the costs -- emotional, professional, political, and spiritual -- of being a professional spy. What would it be like to lie for a living, even if you believed in what you were doing wholeheartedly? Does Eric make correct the moral decisions? How can you define what's "correct"? Does Hanssen's Catholicism affect your opinion of him? How? How accurate do you think the movie is? How could you go about finding out more about Hanssen and what he did?