Don’t let the trailers for Breach fool you. While it seem to have played on the heels of last summer’s The Sentinel with Kiefer Sutherland (and Breach was even advertised with a few clips of Dennis Haysbert, an alumni of 24, like Sutherland), Breach trounces The Sentinel in every way imaginable. Ignore the advertising—the only relation the two films share is that they deal with the government.
Breach tells the story of Robert Hanssen, an FBI agent that was ousted in early 2001 for his selling secrets to Russia for the better part of two decades. While the film retrieves its basis from this historical incident, it focuses not on Hanssen but on Eric O’Neill, the operative assigned to help expose Hanssen. If you haven’t heard of O’Neill it’s because he was never mentioned in the myriad of books that followed the arrest of Hanssen. O’Neill was kept hidden by the FBI in the event a trial would take place; however, Hanssen plead guilty and a trial was never needed, allowing O’Neill to be revealed to the public and the (massive) part he played in the capture of Hanssen.
There are no big shoot outs in the film (the only guns fired are in the gun range and a particularly tense scene with Hanssen and O’Neil in the woods) or explosions, so don’t expect a summer blockbuster from this film. Perhaps it’s because I expected so little from this film that I was so impressed by it, but even on a second viewing I did nothing but appreciate the film and after listening to the commentary it’s clear a lot of hard work and effort went into the making of this film. Not only is the vast majority of the film historically accurate (as it should be), with very few details changed or embellished (the final scene between O’Neill and Hanssen never occurred), it’s simply an engaging look at the incidents that went on at the FBI during this tense time in our nation’s history.
While it’s true that the film will likely resonate more with American’s than the rest of the world, looking at the film even from the non-historical perspective makes for an engaging movie. The bonding between O’Neill and Hanssen, their religious discussions and the ultimate capture of Hanssen is all engaging and the fact that it actually happened only serves to enhance an already wonderful film.
One thing you’ll likely notice in this film is there are no real giant movie stars. While Chris Cooper and Ryan Phillippe are stars in their own right, they aren’t names you hear around the household every day. While it may have hurt the films marketability, the acting from all of the crew is outstanding. After having just seen Phillippe play a relatively silent part in Flags of Our Fathers, it was interesting to see him come alive in this film. While his character is quiet in this film as well, he comes alive in his fights with his wife, Juliana O’Neill (played by Caroline Dhavernas) and the confrontation with Hanssen in the woods. The only weak acting I saw in the film was on Caroline Dhavernas part, but on the second viewing it didn’t play nearly as weak—I think it was more just adjusting to the character of Juliana O’Neill for me than Dhavernas’s acting.
In a sea of mediocre movies, Breach is a refreshing film that easily entertains you for the near two hours it runs. While it may seem slow to some, once the big reveal to O’Neill is given, the film goes from climbing the big incline on a rollercoaster to barreling down the tracks. Breach comes Highly Recommended.
A quiet film that has a quiet DVD release, Breach comes in a single disc DVD in an amaray case security lock case with an HD-DVD insert inside. Disc art is the same plain “art” that Universal has been using (mirror surface disc with simple black lettering). Menus are simple and effect.
The video and audio of this release is moderate. Audio is clean and clear and focused mainly on the front channels. Video is a bit grainy and messy looking at times, which is odd for a film as new as this. I can’t tell if it’s the transfer or if this is how the film was shot, but there is a lot of transfer dancing going on during the film.
Moving onto the special features, we get a satisfying crop of extras. Up first is eighteen minutes of deleted and alternate scenes, which range from interesting to downright humorous. It’s obvious, as with most deleted scenes, why these were left out or cut down and the accompanying commentary for each scene explains in full why they were cut. The best of the scenes is one where Hanssen is testing O’Neill’s ability to answer the phone—not only is it a good scene, it is actually a rather humorous one, which is one of the reasons it was cut. Not to say the film doesn’t have a laugh once or twice, but it was a little too silly to have floating in a movie such as this.
Two featurettes made for the film are up next. The first gives an inside look at the production of the film, with comments from the majority of the cast (something refreshing to see—too often you see only the minor actors talking about the film, but in this we get all of the actors in addition to crew). This featurette is your typical making-of short style documentary and is accompanied by an more in-depth look into Chris Cooper’s portrayal of Robert Hanssen. Oddly enough there is no featurette on how Phillippe became O’Neill, but I suppose that’s because O’Neill was actually onset of the film, making Phillippe’s portrayal less research filled.
A Dateline feature, “The Mole”, from 3/05/01 is included on the set as well. If only to familiarize yourself with this story, this featurette is worth watching it. It’s your typical Dateline piece with interviews from friends and family (if you question why O’Neill isn’t mentioned, it’s because, as stated above, he wasn’t disclosed at this point in time). Another interesting piece to watch on this set after you view the film.
Finally we have the commentary. Director Billy Ray provides a wall-to-wall dialogue track and is accompanied by Eric O’Neill himself. While O’Neill rarely talks unless prodded by Ray, he does comment on the authenticity of some of the scenes (sadly, he doesn’t say whether the shooting scene in the woods actually took place or not) and drops a few cool insights into the FBI (they aren’t allowed internet access). On top of Ray’s back patting of all of the actors (though he doesn’t comment on Haysbert at all, despite praising him on the “Breaching the Truth” featurette), he isn’t afraid to point out scenes he feels are inadequate or directed badly. He’s a very honest director and it’s refreshing to hear such a track after all of the self-important crap I’ve listened to over the years.
Overall I doubt this film will ever get another DVD release. Not to say it doesn’t deserve it, but this one is perfect for the size of film this is. There are no in-depth featurettes needed (I never felt they were when the films themselves have commentary by the director) and the inclusion of Eric O’Neill in the extras is a key in making the featurettes feel every bit worthwhile to watch. Along with the film, the DVD comes Highly Recommended.
Breach is now available on DVD in fullscreen and widescreen as well as on HD-DVD in a combo HD-DVD/DVD format.