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Movie Review


MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence, sexual content, and language

Reviewed by: Stacey Dittman

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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Drama, Thriller, Biography
1 hr. 10 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
February 16, 2007 (wide)
Copyright, Universal Pictures
Copyright, Universal Pictures
Copyright, Universal Pictures
Copyright, Universal Pictures
Copyright, Universal Pictures
Copyright, Universal Pictures
Copyright, Universal Pictures
Relevant Issues
Featuring: Chris Cooper, Ryan Phillippe, Laura Linney, Dennis Haysbert, Aaron Abrams
Director: Billy Ray
Producer: Scott Kroopf, Adam Merims, Scott Strauss
Distributor: Universal Pictures

“Inspired by the true story of the greatest security breach in U.S. history.”

“I never cared about making headlines. I wanted to make history.”

“Breach” is based on the true story of Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper), a top member of the FBI’s Soviet Analytical Unit, and a traitor, who sold thousands of highly classified documents to the Soviets over a period of years. A young surveillance whiz, Eric O’Neill (Ryan Phillippe), is given an assignment by the FBI to gain Hanssen’s trust and ultimately draw him out of his cover.

O’Neill is not initially told the real reason for his assignment. He reports directly to agent Laura Linney (Kate Burroughs), who tells him that Hanssen is guilty of sexual misconduct towards female staff. Although the allegations of sexual misconduct turn out to be true, O’Neill quickly realizes that there is much more to this case.

Not surprisingly, Hanssen is a deeply suspicious man, and immediately informs O’Neill of the nature of their relationship: “Your name is clerk. My name is boss,” he tellls him.

In one of the movie’s opening scenes, Hanssen is shown praying his rosary at church, thus setting the stage for the deep contradiction between his professed faith (Hanssen tells O’Neill that “God expects you to live your faith at all times.”) and his treacherous secrets. However, as O’Neill spends more time with Hanssen, he is drawn to the older man’s attempts to reach out to him in spite of his deep-seated mistrust of everyone. Slowly, O’Neill begins to believe that Hanssen is misunderstood.

It is only when O’Neill challenges agent Linney on the nature of his assignment that he is told the truth and realizes what is at stake. After that, a psychological game between two spies unfolds, pitting the survival and instincts of one against the other.

Although the movie contains relatively little violence and sexual content when compared to other movies in its genre, there is some material that could be offensive or disturbing to some viewers. Agent Linney makes some crude remarks to O’Neill regarding Hanssen’s deviant sexual behavior. An attractive woman in the elevator becomes the topic of discussion for Hanssen and O’Neill with respect to marital fidelity and lusting in one’s heart. At one point, O’Neill briefly views a videotape that suggests the nature of Hanssen’s deviant behavior.

There are a couple of instances of violence, including a brief scene in which two KGB officers are shot in the back of their heads, and another in which a drunk Hanssen fires his gun at O’Neill.

In addition, O’Neill uses some profanity when he challenges Hanssen’s continual testing of his motives and loyalty.

Hanssen’s life, though extreme in his duplicity, is a reminder to us of how self-deceptive we can be. King David, who betrayed God, and those around him, with his secretive acts of infidelity and then murder, ultimately humbled himself and sought God’s forgiveness. Hanssen’s major stumbling block is a distorted ambition to “make history” which leads to a profound misuse of his considerable talents.

In spite of his devotion to prayer and church, Hanssen is unable to find fulfillment and peace. While keeping the outward appearance of purity and piety, he misses out on the inward work that God could do to make him a whole man, one with lasting meaning and purpose.

Those looking for a lot of action or gunfire typically associated with spy/thriller movies may be disappointed. Although it is not typical of its genre, this is a very well-acted, character-driven movie with wonderful performances by Cooper and Burroughs. With such a complex lead character, there is much to ponder here and should make for good discussion afterward.

Violence: Moderate / Profanity: Moderate / Sex/Nudity: Moderate

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

Viewer Comments
Comments below:
Positive—My adult son and I saw this movie last night. We thought it was excellent and very true to life. The offensive elements of violence and sexuality were underplayed and necessary to the overall plot and character of the movie. The interplay and relationship development between the two main characters were fascinating and thought provoking.
My Ratings: Offensive / 5
—Dr. Richard Waina, age 67
Positive—This movie is a must see a great movie for everyone. This is a very up-lifting film, and I can’t wait till it comes out on DVD so I can buy it.
My Ratings: Good / 4
—Michelle Anderson, age 37
Positive—“Breach” was well done. The Hanssen character is an enigma: seemingly a devout Christian (even fooling himself perhaps) but a traitor not only to that faith, but also to his wife and country. The movie hints he was motivated by the need to be superior, but if so, he hurt the very ones he claimed mattered most to him. Like so much of human evil, his actions are unfathamable. Perhaps our problem is thinking that if we can “explain” evil, we can avoid it. But as Paul said, 'evil is right there beside me.'
My Ratings: Average / 4½
—Dan, age 47
Positive—“Breach” is, at the end, one of the best movies I ever have seen for the way it protrays ideals consistent with Christian values. As the movie develops, there are bad words that are consistent with the characters and plot development. It is the nature of spying that there is lying, although the O’Neill character refuses to take an oath verifying an untruth at one point. Clearly the O’Neill character is uncomfortable with the lies and tells his supervisor, Agent Linney. He is even more concerned about not telling his wife what he is doing and the conflicts in his marriage that result. There is a very brief, mercifully poor resolution, video clip that does not expose anything, although an adult will recognize what is happening. This is necessary, though, to verify the corruption of the Hannsen character.

Where this movie excells is the decision O’Neill makes during the wrapup at the end of the movie. At the beginning of the movie his zeal to make the rank of “Agent” and his ambition are very clearly underscored. At the end, he turns down the promotion and recognition. As his character develops, he disdains turning in one who has become a friend, even though he recognizes the evil in that friend’s life that must be stopped. More importantly to me, though, is that Agent Linney knows O’Neill is troubled by the difficulties the case has caused with his wife. Linney tells him that most agents are married, and their spouses “get used to it.” O’Neill takes a stand, saying he does not want his wife to get used to it. He walks away from what was at the beginning of the film his life’s focus for the greater good of his family and personal integrity. One has to wonder if accepting just such an offer a long time before was the beginning of Hannsen’s corruption. O’Neill wisely sidesteps the issue by taking a costly stand for a life where he can fully maintain his integrity and the relationship with his wife.
My Ratings: Better than Average / 5
—Tony Krug, age 55
Positive—“Breach” is the true story of someone who is, apparently, a believer, but who betrays his wife and his nation. Not an exciting spy film. Perhaps unsatisfactory as a psychological thriller. Certainly not for children. It raises questions about susceptibility to evil, and how/whether Christians can continue in serious immorality. I recommend it as a salutary story for adult Christians. And, remembering Jesus' words about prisoners, let’s pray for Hanssen and his family.
My Ratings: Good / 4½
—Felix Moore, age 57 (Australia)
Positive—To be honest, I was VERY IMPRESSED with this movie. They did an excellent job of being as accurate as possible (right down to the suit he wore the day of his arrest to the wife’s wedding ring) and being extremely tasteful in the necessary ugly elements of the story. I don’t remember any over the top language, just barely a fraction of what would really be present in real life. The dynamic between Hansson and O’Neill is very entertaining to watch, and Cooper and Phillippe do an incredible job of portraying their character’s thoughts into expressions. The scene where O’Neill “plays” Cooper is amazing writing and acting.

As the wife of a law enforcement officer, the portrayal of what this kind of job can do to your personal life is all too true, and I’m sure extremely underplayed. I personally applaud the real Eric O’Neill in his decision not to remain in a position, while necessary and commendable, is so destructive to family life.

Frankly, while everyone’s entitled to their opinion, I’m not sure where so many negative comments are coming from. This movie is so excellently done, especially for this genre and with such a sensitive, historical story.
My Ratings: Better than Average / 4½
—Mariah, age 25
Negative—Unfortunately, attempts to portray the anguish one (in an agent’s position)would naturally experience, were expressed with words that used the Lord’s name in vain on several occasions. Once I hear the phrase G__ ___n, I begin to disengage from any film. While the story was true and you feel for the individuals being portrayed, you pray that the actors attempting to convey their frustration and fear are able to use less offensive terms. Such was not the case here. The story was true, so it was terribly interesting. However, if you’re like me and you find the fact that the Lord’s name is used so harshly, you’ll find that the language in this film is highly offensive and for this reason, I would not recommend viewing it. God Bless you as read my review while considering this film.
My Ratings: Extremely Offensive / 3
—Arlene Cline, age 39
Negative—This movie was good, but the actors weren’t right for the film. Chris Cooper looks nothing even close to the real Robert Hannsen. They should have chosen a guy like Matt Damon who is really good at dodging the feds. He fed us from the great Bourne films. They should remake it with Matt Damon as Robert Hannsen.
My Ratings: Extremely Offensive / 2½
—Brandon, age 26
Comments from young people
Negative—I for one am not a big fan of these types of movies, but this one seals the letter in its entirety. There were a few curse words, but the one I remember as a use of the F-word. As for sexual content, there is brief viewing of a sex tape, and there is flirting with the old man trying to flirt with O’Neills characters wife. As for spiritual content, I find it hypocritical to all Christians, regardless of what style of Christian. Hanssen is a Catholic and consistently talks about praying, that’s good and all until you find out what he had done in the past and what he was about to do at the end. There is one church scene but that does no last long. The main character has to lie in order get Hanssens trust which is not a good message.

There was not a lot of violence, but two men were very briefly shot in the head during a person telling a story of what Hanssen did with the soviets. O’Neill does got shot at from a drunk Hanssen with what looks like a revolver (I’m not a big gun person). There is also a fight scene between the main character and his wife, in which he does tell her to “shut up.” There is no blood in the movie at all.

I don’t think you should take your children to this movie because they will be very bored. The movie overall was not great but it did tell the story very well. The acting was spectacular. This movie was not very Christian based and unless you really feel that this was the story of the century, this movie should be avoided by all kids under 17.
My Ratings: Offensive / 3½
—Devin Smith, age 17
Negative—The movie was really good just to say, but it didn’t have good quality. For one Chris Cooper looks nothing like Robert Hannsen. In real life Hannsen was a normal type of guy. In Breach, they made Hannsen look like a drunk reject running away from the cops. …I do not recommend this film.
My Ratings: Extremely Offensive / 2½
—Ryan, age 14
Positive—I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. At the beginning of the film O’Neill was young, naive, and ambitious. He must learn and grow as he attempts to win the trust of the always-suspicious Hanssen. I was fascinated by the relationship between O’Neill and Hanssen. That being said, I feel the need to interject, that I am often fascinated by people. If you are looking for an action-packed film, this is not the one to see.

From what I had heard before I viewed this film, I expected it to portray Christianity in a very offensive light. However, I didn’t find that to be the case. Hanssen did come off as a bit of a religious extremist. However, the fact that he betrayed his country, and his wife for that matter, only shows that people are typically not as they seem. As for the sexually content, most of it was just talk about Hanssen being a sexual deviant. In one scene, there is a very brief viewing of a sex tape. My advice, turn your head. The language was not excessive. I could block it out and not let it effect how I viewed the film. However, if bad language effects you very strongly, I would steer clear. The violence was brief. There was only as much as the film needed to prove its point. All that being said, I would NOT recommend bringing children or young teens to see this film.

My Ratings: Average / 4
—Sarah, age 16
Neutral—This movie was BORING! It never went anywhere with the story. The main character was depicted as a strongly religious man who had a caring supportive family, and, of course, he turned out to be a hypocrite, which is dissapointing because these types of characters always seem to. The acting was out of place for most characters, as if they had been cast wrong, the story went nowhere, and there weren’t many redeeming qualities in the film either. Overall, this film is a snoozer and worth missing…
My Ratings: Average / 2
—Sarah, age 17
Neutral—Overall, this movie was pretty good. The only thing I didn’t like was how the preview misslead you for an action movie. Thier were only about three scenes of brief shooting. But I did like how the suspense kept building up to the exciting parts of the film. But besides the entertainment there was sexual content and language. There was only one scene my dad had to skip because it showed something sex-related. But the rest was pretty much inuendo. The language wasn’t strong but SOMETIMES the words got a little nasty. Overall, me and my dad thought this was a good movie showing the F.B.I. truly in action.
My Ratings: Better than Average / 5
—Zac Papaleo, age 12