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Movie Review

Twentysomething Eric O'Neill has one goal in life: to become an FBI agent. The aggressive tactics he uses to climb the professional ladder leave him misunderstood by his surveillance-level peers, but it seems he's to have the last laugh when he receives a call from headquarters. Agent Kate Burroughs wants him to keep an eye on FBI legend Robert Hanssen, who, despite his accolades, has recently been discovered to be a "sexual deviant" posting "lurid material" online.

Hanssen's actions could potentially embarrass the bureau, Burroughs says. So, months away from retirement, Hanssen's been reassigned to the Information Assurance Division to overhaul the agency's data storage system. O'Neill must go undercover as his clerk.

But it won't be easy to "out" Hanssen. He's a devout Catholic who goes to church every day, loves his wife and family, doesn't drink and seems devoted to serving his country. "Faith, family, country ... those are the things that matter," he tells O'Neill. There just doesn't seem to be much dirt for O'Neill to dig up on his superior.

That changes once Burroughs pulls back the curtain for the rookie. In truth, Hanssen has been living a double life for decades, delivering intelligence to the Soviet Union and Russia in exchange for large amounts of money. (The "sexual deviant" part turns out to be true as well.) O'Neill settles in to catch him in the act of making a "drop" to his Russian contacts. But outsmarting a man who's bested the entire FBI for 22 years is like trying to find a wireless transmitter hidden in a fake rock ... inside a quarry.


Positive Elements

Though his sentiments are undermined by his secret life, Hanssen frequently waxes poetic about the immeasurable value of family. "What could be a bigger blessing than family?" he asks rhetorically. And when O'Neill argues that it's acceptable for a married man to "just look" at other women, Hanssen retorts that God says otherwise.

When queried about his refusal to play corporate political games and, as a result, being overlooked for promotions, Hanssen replies, "The judgments of other men don't matter. I know what I've done." (An ominous statement given his undercover actions.) He also shows interest in and makes a kind gesture regarding O'Neill's mother, who has Parkinson's disease. After O'Neill goes to his father for advice, the elder man encourages his son not to quit but to continue serving his country the best he can.

[Spoiler Warning] By helping the FBI arrest Hanssen, O'Neill is all but assured a promotion. Yet after seeing the toll the investigation has taken on his relationship with his wife, Juliana, and observing the sacrifices agents' families are forced to make, the newlywed admirably puts his wife first, shuns the imminent spotlight and walks away from an FBI career. (Interestingly enough, the career-driven Burroughs seems to admire O'Neill's decision.)

Spiritual Content

"God expects you to live your faith at all times." Those are Hanssen's words to his clerk, and ones he pretends to keep in mind in his daily life. As a result, there are several depictions of him and others praying various Catholic prayers, attending mass and confession, and talking about their religion. Crosses, religious icons and the Catechism of the Catholic Church all get shown.

Obviously, there is a disconnect between Hanssen's works-related spirituality and his concealed actions. There's also a divide between God's call to love sinners and Hanssen's immediate judgment of homosexuals. After seeing a Planned Parenthood representative defending same-sex marriage on TV, the agent makes some derogatory remarks. The same treatment is given to a photographer who's automatically deemed a "faggot" trying to "get his jollies."

Hanssen is quick to point out how his wife saved him from his life as a backslidden Lutheran to become a proselytizing Catholic. Indeed, he and his wife try hard to convert Juliana by inviting the O'Neill couple to a Latin mass. Afterward, Mrs. Hanssen talks about kneeling being a sign of devotion and how her family has tried to avoid being like all those "grocery-cart Catholics who take whatever's convenient and leave the rest on the shelf."

Hanssen chalks up the fall of the Soviet Union to "godlessness and atheism." To combat stress, he tells O'Neill to pray more. After getting caught, he solemnly tells him, "Pray for me."

Sexual Content

For most of the movie, Hanssen's sexual deviance is talked about rather than shown ... until O'Neill pops in a videotape that shows the agent and his wife making love. (She's unaware she's being taped.) Though there's nothing visually explicit (the couple is shown from bare shoulders up while he kisses her neck), we hear their bedroom sounds. O'Neill makes a crude crack about his boss masturbating at work (one scene implies that he does), and other references are made to pornographic magazines and tapes.

Burroughs, who qualifies Hanssen's sexual behavior as "irrelevant but true," says that the agent has been a "big fan of strippers for years," and that his Internet postings include anecdotes of him and his wife having "rough sex." Hanssen also seems to have a thing for Catherine Zeta-Jones, and the actress is briefly shown bare-shouldered in a scene from Entrapment.

O'Neill and Juliana kiss passionately a couple of times. She and another woman show cleavage.

Violent Content

Two spies are shot in the back of the head. Though the camera quickly flashes away after the shots are fired, later we see a pool of blood under one of the bodies. During a tense scene, Hanssen repeatedly fires bullets close to a scrambling O'Neill and eventually points his gun directly at the supposed clerk. He and another agent blow off steam by taking target practice.

Crude or Profane Language

A single f-word is accompanied by half-a-dozen s-words. Jesus' name is misused thrice, God's is profaned twice (once with "d--n"), and Hanssen says "good Lord" or "my Lord" a few times. He also makes the Jesuit-raised O'Neill swear to God he's telling the truth. (The latter refuses to do so, saying, "I won't use the Lord's name in vain just to prove it.") A handful of mild profanities ("h--," "p---") and a derogative term also get used.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Vodka, tonic, scotch and gin all get a mention, as does the fact that the FBI doesn't allow its agents to drink on or off the job. It's implied that Hanssen is drunk while driving, and when O'Neill gets in the car with him, he quickly hides a liquor bottle. After a stressful day, the young agent-in-the-making pushes aside Juliana's inquiries by saying he just wants to "grab a drink and go to bed." Juliana says that she and O'Neill first met at a bar.

Other Negative Elements

Hanssen tells O'Neill to steal both a new computer from the hallway (designated for another division) and a painting from another agent's area. The clerk follows through with both demands. Hanssen also makes a few sexist remarks, based on his stated belief that women should be at home serving their families.


On Feb. 18, 2001, FBI agent Robert Hanssen was arrested for treason in what has been called "the greatest security breach in United States history." His deception cost the U.S. millions, if not billions of dollars and an undisclosed number of lives. Based on real-life events, Breach is the cat-and-mouse account of the Hanssen investigation's final two months. (I'll not even begin to theorize on exactly how accurate everything is.)

Director Billy Ray opts for an unusual take on the events, however. Not only do moviegoers know the ending before the movie ever begins (the film's first moments are clips from former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft's actual news conference), they also get the account from the perspective of real-life hero Eric O'Neill. The result is a slow-moving, slow-building introspective thriller that, like a 25-year FBI veteran, is concerned more with nuance—the minutia of Hanssen's day-to-day life and that of those chasing him—than exploding bombs and nail-biting chase scenes.

Chris Cooper and Ryan Phillippe splendidly deliver that nuance. And Ray offers an intriguing, albeit permeable, character study of those whom our country's security so delicately rests upon. He also includes, despite moderate restraint, just enough problematic language and sexual content to deter discerning viewers from ever getting the inside scoop on what was once a classified case. Because while this is relatively tame stuff in a cinematic culture dominated by the James Bonds and Jason Bournes of the covert world, that isn't the only thing to consider when deciding whether to go to the movies.

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Chris Cooper as Robert Hanssen; Ryan Phillippe as Eric O'Neill; Laura Linney as Kate Burroughs; Caroline Dhavernas as Juliana O'Neill; Dennis Haysbert as Dan Plesac; Gary Cole as Rich Garces; Kathleen Quinlan as Bonnie Hanssen


Billy Ray ( Secret in Their Eyes)


Universal Pictures



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Marcus Yoars

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