Reviews > Movies

Head exam

Movies | Hanssen gets a work-up in Breach

Issue: "Tortilla wars," March 10, 2007

What would possibly compel an apparently God-fearing FBI agent to sell out his nation for $1.4 million in cash and diamonds? Director Billy Ray's new film, Breach, seeks to answer the question everyone asked after the February 2001 arrest of agent Robert Hanssen-an espionage case officials called "possibly the worst intelligence disaster in U.S. history."

Instead of focusing on the results of Hanssen's sins (which could have led to an eye-catching thriller), Ray focuses Breach (rated PG-13 for violence, sexual content, and harsh language) on the relationship between Hanssen (Chris Cooper) and a young agent named Eric O'Neill (Ryan Philippe), who is assigned as his assistant and used to build a criminal case against the traitor.

The film portrays Hanssen as a compartmentalizer-a person who seems to separate his espionage, pornography addiction, and harsh treatment of subordinates from a strict Catholic faith that leads him to Mass each morning.

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Hanssen comes off as a religious zealot, not a man touched by the gospel. And in that way, Hanssen's fall can make sense to gospel-believing Christians who know that religiosity often appeals to those looking for their own way to atone for sin. Hanssen flies off the handle when the young O'Neill questions his importance. "I matter plenty," Hanssen spits back. He hopes he does, anyway.

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