Fanatically religious, pathologically suspicious and obsessed with Catherine Zeta-Jones, Robert Hanssen hardly fit the profile of a ruthless super spy. Yet for more than 20 years this FBI operative sold government secrets to the Soviets, successfully evading detection through a combination of luck, double-bluff and breathtaking audacity. It's an incredible story that should make a gripping thriller. Despite a career-best turn from Chris Cooper, however, Breach is a weirdly muted affair that makes The Good Shepherd look like The Bourne Ultimatum.
Rather than relive Hanssen's career in espionage, writer/director Billy Ray concentrates on how he was exposed by a rookie agent (Ryan Phillippe) with orders to draw him out into the open. This, then, is not just the story of a man who betrayed his country, but of a traitor betrayed - a paradox that gives Cooper and Phillippe acres of moral complexity to work with. Ray's film, though, is a coolly uninvolving experience - partly because there never seems to be very much at stake, but also because Hanssen remains an essentially unknowable antagonist.
"LESS THAN THE SUM OF ITS PARTS"
You can't fault the cast, Cooper filling in the blanks with a tight-lipped terseness and quiet, festering anger. Phillippe is fine too as the two-faced trainee sickened by his own duplicity, while Laura Linney lends a world-weary candour to her role as his pushy superior. If Breach is ultimately less than the sum of its parts, one can at least be sure of a well-crafted drama well in tune with the current mood of paranoia and unease.
Breach is out in the UK on 31st August 2007.