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Breach

a film by Billy Ray

A satisfactory (well, almost) yet rather staid little spy thriller about the taking down of the reputed worst double agent in American history. Perhaps, though, the choice of thriller as an opening adjective is somewhat of a misnomer. Billy Ray's thriller is never all that thrilling of a thriller, considering that even if you do not already come into the theatre with a pre-knowledge of the Robert Hanssen case from 2001, the opening scene of John Ashcroft announcing the arrest of Hanssen should end even the minutest amount of anxiety.

Ray's only other attempt behind the director's lens was 2003's Shattered Glass, the story of a journalist who became infamous for fabricating over half his articles for The New Republic. That film, in which the atrociously ham-handed Hayden Christensen plays the lead make-up artist Stephen Glass, was perhaps a test run for the much more serious case of lies which is Breach. In comparison, Breach plays out as the stronger film (it is pretty bad when Ryan Phillippe - as the mole in search of a mole - seems a powerful presence when compared with the feyly superficial Anakin Skywalker) yet still ends up being no better than mediocre in its intensity - an attribute this is sorely needed in any spy thriller. Even The Good Shepherd, a film that lingers along in the most melancholy manner, is a far superior adventure to this one.

In fact the only thing keeping me from entirely ripping this film apart is the bravura performance from Chris Cooper, but then when does Chris Cooper not hand in a bravura performance. He can play everything from a flag-waving repressed homosexual (American Beauty) to a Socialist labor union organizer (Matewan) to an orchid-sniffing drug addict (Adaptation) to a hilariously parodied personification of the stupidity of a certain current White House resident (Silver City) with equal amounts of subtlety and ferocity which regularly get Cooper called the best character actor at work (or play) today. If only he had better material this time around. [02/18/07]

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