Sunday, September 16, 2007


The verdict: Solid, realistic and well acted political thriller, with an excellent script and three decent central performances... but it's a little lukewarm.

The rating: 6/10

You may recognise Chris Cooper's face as the emotionally repressed military father from 'American Beauty', but you there's a good chance you're not familiar with his name. You see, Cooper is one of those jobbing Hollywood actors who at one point or another, was branded as a 'character actor'. The role of the character actor is essentially to deliver capably adequate performances that will support the leading men and women, without showing off too much, and somehow outshining the reason the audience is there in the first place.

Since American Beauty, Cooper has quietly and capably turned in effective performances in some pretty big movies. He was in the first two 'Bourne' movies, 'Capote', 'Syriana' and 'Adaptation', which isn't a bad resume by anyone's standards. 'Breach' is Cooper's just reward for biding his time, and he has managed to land a role that is well suited to his talents.

At one level, this movie is the story of treason inside the CIA. Robert Hanssen (Cooper) may or may not be guilty of feeding inside information to the enemy. Former Catholic schoolboy Eric O'Neil (Ryan Philippe) is given the job of Hanssen's assistant, but this job is just a cover. In reality he is monitoring Hanssen, and reporting his movements to his real boss, Agent Burroughs (Laura Linney).

However, this movie is also a character study, following the effects of O'Neil's immersion in the activities of the CIA, through his encounters with Hanssen, the grizzled twenty-five year veteran who believes he can read people better than a lie detector, and also his immediate boss, who lives a lonely, unconnected life. Whilst in the process of uncovering the truth about Hanssen, O'Neil also comes to learn more about what the sacrifices he'll need to make to get ahead in the CIA as an agent.

I took some enjoyment from this movie, as Cooper in particular is great. Philippe delivers resaonable support, and the two share a few reasonably tense scenes together. The script is well packaged, and build slowly to a crescendo of subtle tension. This movie is based on a true story, and does feel like a slice of life in the CIA, an existence that could be transplanted to any form of corporate life by the looks of it.

The thing is, this movie is good, but it just ain't great. The tension builds slowly, but it never really simmers, and the outcome is relatively predictable. I enjoyed the fact that the good and bad guys in this movie came in shades of grey, but I was never able to warm to the characters. I could relate to the young guy in the office, wondering about how political he needs to be to get ahead, sure, but this is hardly inspiring stuff. All in all, when the end credits rolled, I wasn't really left with any strong feelings about this movie. 'Capable', 'adequate', and 'sufficient' were words that sprang to mind. Perhaps recommended for fans of political intrigue, but this isn't a top-notch thriller by any means.. let's just say if this movie was an actor, it would have a supporting role.

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