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G-Men, B-plus-Movie

18 Feb

God bless Billy Ray. The director coaxed a good performance out of Hayden Christensen in Shattered Glass in 2003, and now he’s done the same with Ryan Phillippe in Breach, a film that tells the story of the efforts in 2001 to catch FBI agent Robert Hanssen, who was suspected of spying for the Soviet Union and Russia. The end result of this film is known up-front — not only is this a true story, but the movie begins with a clip from John Ashcroft’s press conference announcing his capture — so it’s more about the way he was captured. Hanssen, who is played brilliantly by Chris Cooper, was a devout, seemingly by-the-book FBI agent, who doesn’t suffer fools. I love that the Boston Herald called this movie The Devil Wears Brooks Brothers because at first it’s like that. But as Hanssen’s clerk, Eric O’Neill (Phillippe), starts to peel away the layers and becomes an instrumental part of the FBI’s attempts to catch Hanssen, the movie becomes more cat and mouse and less, um, catty. Because we know how the story ends up, there aren’t too many surprising twists like you’d find in a conventional spy thriller, and Ray does his best to ratchet up the suspense a few times, but mostly Breach plays like a solid inside-D.C. drama that eschews such conventions. As mentioned, both Cooper and Phillippe are good, but Laura Linney, as O’Neill’s real boss, just doesn’t carry her weight. For some reason, she can’t bark orders like the rest of them and it’s almost laughable. They say good movies don’t get released in mid-February, and while I didn’t enjoy Breach as much as Shattered Glass, I still say it’s still worth seeing. I’m giving it a B+.

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