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Originally published Friday, February 16, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Movie review

"Breach" | I spy ... a unique film in top-secret form

One of the best elements of this lean, tense and coolly believable story about the internal hunt for FBI turncoat Robert Hanssen is how...

Special to The Seattle Times

One of the best elements of this lean, tense and coolly believable story about the internal hunt for FBI turncoat Robert Hanssen is how its visual style and dearth of formulaic structural ingredients run counter to almost any other spy movie.

There is good reason scenes unfold with steady rhythm and locations are drab fluorescent hallways of government bureaucracy, ordinary homes or perfectly framed outdoor locales drained of all prettiness by slate-gray winter. Stillness and calm can be rife with tension and suspense, and since "Breach" is about internal struggles, the external dreariness does much to enhance the turmoil, suspicion and volleys of lies told by and to professional liars.

Chief in the web of deceit is Hanssen, who, as an FBI desk jockey, had been selling classified documents to the Soviet Union since the Cold War, then continued passing secrets to Russia until his arrest in February 2001. His actions are known to have caused the deaths of numerous agents working for the U.S.

Movie review 3.5 stars


Showtimes and trailer

"Breach," with Chris Cooper, Ryan Phillippe, Laura Linney, Gary Cole, Dennis Haysbert, Kathleen Quinlan. Directed by Billy Ray, from a screenplay by Ray, Adam Mazer and William Rotko. 110 minutes. Rated PG-13 for violence, sexual content and language. Several theaters.

He got away with it for 22 years, all while maintaining boring employee-of-the-month behavior at work and a devoutly pious Catholic family life at home. He also had a penchant for posting sexually explicit fantasies on the Internet and sharing secretly made videos of him and his wife making love.

Chris Cooper brings the deceptions of Hanssen's dour existence together in a remarkable performance that breeds more dread than any undercover spy lurking in shadowy alleys; it's in the weary anger of his jawline and the way he uses his body to force others into revealing themselves. It's especially terrifying in the steely distrust of his stare and the barely controlled rage in his voice. Embittered by what he sees as inferior intelligence all around, even his criminal mind knows the outrageous inefficiency among agencies will one day lead to disaster.

"Cooperation is counter-operational," he sneers with rote sarcasm.

When it's finally discovered he's the mole, Kate Burroughs (Laura Linney), an equally cold and devoted upper-echelon agent, assigns rookie analyst Eric O'Neill (Ryan Phillippe) to be Hanssen's assistant and her informant. At first he's naive enough to believe they're out to get Hanssen because he's "a sexual deviant." Only later does an impatient, imperious Burroughs tell O'Neill the truth.

Though he's a little outclassed, Phillippe holds his own against Cooper and Linney. We see O'Neill's keen mind keeping up even as the unknowns come faster and more dangerously from both of his bosses.

Ted Fry: tedfry@hotmail.com

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