Director: Billy Ray
As he did with his brilliant first film, Shattered Glass, director Billy Ray proves to have a knack for creating riveting drama from shocking fact-based events about men who betray not only their colleagues but virtually everyone affected by their work. In the case of Shattered, he told the tale of New Republic journalist Stephen Glass who fabricated numerous pieces and with that plot Ray created one of the best newspaper dramas since the legendary All the President’s Men. With his ambitious follow-up, Breach, he takes on an even bigger challenge in relaying the tale of the greatest traitor the United States government has ever known, respected FBI agent Robert Hannsen who sold top-secret intelligence data to the Russians for over fifteen years. The film, like Shattered, works best as an ensemble piece in giving the audience part of the role in figuring out the depth of betrayal as we meet our hero, the young aspiring agent Eric O’Neill (Ryan Phillippe in another terrific performance that illustrates his ability to disappear into a role and let others shine) who is recruited by agent Kate Burroughs (Laura Linney) to go in undercover as Hannsen’s new office assistant, only being told that there’s been alarming reports of his behavior as a “sexual deviant.” After spending some time with the devout Catholic and computer wizard, O’Neill begins to struggle with his detail, until reluctantly he is finally told about Hannsen's ties to espionage and the rest-- as Americans well remember from winter and spring of 2001 when the truth came to light-- is history. The riveting film plays like a stellar John Grisham thriller with plenty of nail-biting moments where our hero is almost caught and it’s even more disturbing when you realize that you are watching a villain dressed in a respected official’s clothing and all the events are true. Had this film been released during the fall of 2006, I have little doubt that Chris Cooper (who is unnervingly intimidating as Hannsen in his best role since American Beauty) would have received an Oscar nomination but unfortunately it was relegated to a February 2007 release date where the film was virtually ignored. Now that it’s been release on DVD, hopefully it will find the audience it deserves and if you haven’t already seen Shattered Glass, do rent that one as well as former screenwriter Billy Ray proves a natural for direction and I can’t wait to see what he does next.