dir. Billy Ray
"God wants you to have nice things."
- Tammy Faye Bakker
"Thank you. Thank you for showing me this is who I am."
- Jeff, Hard Candy
"How many guys do you know whose best friend is also their priest? "
- Daulton Lee, The Falcon and the Snowman
In Breach, Chris Cooper plays Robert Hanssen, once famously described by the Department of Justice as being at the center of the "the worst intelligence disaster in US history."
A difficult, demanding man of intense faith and even more intense secrecy, Cooper's Hanssen is an enigma hiding in plain sight.
The story is told from the point of view of Hanssen's assistant, Eric O'Neill, played by Ryan Phillippe. O'Neill was assigned to Hanssen by internal FBI investigators for the purpose of setting up a sting and catching Hanssen in the act of espionage.
Throughout the film, we are presented with various partial explanations for Hanssen's behavior.
He's a "sexual deviant," by which the FBI means that he hangs out in internet sex chat rooms, swaps tapes of he and his wife en flagrante and enjoys the company strippers. All of which makes him about as deviated from the norm as lite beer, if the headlines are to be believed.
He's an intensely religious catholic, a member of Opus Dei.
Abused by his father, Hanssen grows into a hard-edged, judgmental, cruel man with no tolerance for failure (or even imperfection) and no patience for bureacratic inefficiency.
Paranoid and secretive, he naturally fears not only being found out, but being left out of any information loop, anywhere.
Intelligent and capable, he is often the smartest person in the room and is even more often frustrated by the ineptitude of his superiors.
As a hodge-podge of bad wiring and mixed up values, Hanssen becomes a symbol for the very intelligence agency he betrays, an agency (along with our other national intelligence and law enforcement agencies) whose dry-rot corruption would become apparent over the years subsequent to his arrest in 2001 (six months prior to 9/11.)
The FBI of Breach is a cold, impersonal machine. The rhetoric used to decribe Hanssen ("worst intelligence disaster in US history"), while apt, is prattled off like so many political talking points.
When Laura Linney's character speaks with passion about the integrity of the FBI and chastizes O'Neill for not maintaining secrecy from his wife, we see that a narrow line separates her from Hanssen. His passionate rhetoric about "serving the needs of the Bureau" reads just as strongly as hers.
We can only imagine how Linney's character proceeds after this story ends as she sits, alone, in her empty apartment ("I don't even have a cat") and wonders what it all adds up to in the end. How long before O'Neill is assigned to investigate her?
In JFK, Donald Sutherland's Mr. X famously asserts that the how and the who of the Kennedy assasination distract us from the important question: why? This is, of course, the fundamental flaw in conspiracy-based thinking. In conspiracy-think, the details and the reality matter less than the imagined framework of motives and counter-motives that the supposed villains operate under. Should any inconvenient evidence challenge this framework, well, that just proves that the villains are devious in covering their tracks.
But, for Hanssen, ultimately the what far outshines any hypothetical why.
Sure, everybody likes money. But if you want to get rich, don't join the FBI.
Sure, the egos of intelligent people can be powerful things and the knowledge that you're putting one over on the great FBI even as you work dilligently in service of that same institution would give anyone a perverse thrill. Then again, that's why the Good Lord invented cards.
Sure, an abusive parent can put a lot of bad thoughts in your head. But adults are responsible for their choices nonetheless.
As the layers of excuses fall away, Hanssen is laid bare. A soulful man eaten alive by a soulless machine, now condemned by that same machine.
And as we face the parade of Albertos Gonzales, Monicae Goodling and Karls Rove, all doing a "heckuva job" defending this country from "the terrorists," we are left to wonder, does it matter much why they're doing what they're doing? Isn't the what damning enough?
Three and a half stars. Agent Jason says there's nothing wrong with liking strippers. They're good people.