Home > Reviews > BREACH – Mychael Danna

BREACH – Mychael Danna

February 16, 2007 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Clark Douglas

You have to admire a film that manages to underplay the greatest security breach in U.S. history. Those who follow the news will remember the arrest of F.B.I. Agent Robert Hanssen, who was found guilty of giving top-secret information to the Russians and compromising the safety of all sorts of things, many of them too secret to be revealed. The story could have easily been turned into a sensational thriller full of all sorts of shocking elements, but “Breach” isn’t interested in that. It places all the cards on the table from the very start, taking away suspense and tension and offering the chance to view a carefully designed character study. The trade-off is more than acceptable.

The reason to see this film is Chris Cooper, who plays Hanssen to absolute perfection. Cooper is a terrific character actor who’s offered up a lot of impressive performances in movies like “Adaptation”, “Lone Star”, “American Beauty”, and many other films. On a resume chock-full of fine pieces of acting, his essay of this character ranks as one of his best. Hanssen is a deep, complex, fascinating man who commands attention every time he’s onscreen. He’s extremely intelligent and observant, he can spot a liar instantly, and has an uncanny knack for finding ways to improve any computer system. He’s also a deeply religious man, a devout Catholic who attends mass daily. He’s a family man, his wife and children love him. He’s also a sexual deviant, and a spy for the Russians. He is not a man leading a double life, each of these elements are an integral part of his whole character.

A young man (Ryan Phillippe) determined to be an F.B.I. agent is assigned to be Hanssen’s secretary, with the undercover mission of trying to keep an eye on Hanssen’s activities. The Philippe character is where the film’s weaknesses lie. He is a particularly uninteresting character, basically playing the role of Joe Audience Member, providing a set of eyes to see the story through. Phillippe is an actor who has managed to work his way into an awful lot of quality films, from “Flags of our Fathers” to “Gosford Park” to “Crash”, but he rarely seems to be able to get past the surface level of whatever role he is playing. This is no exception, he doesn’t seem capable of internalizing the role, but his lack of outward expression would seem to indicate he thinks that he is. There are certain scenes where he overplays the fact that he is lying, and Hanssen doesn’t pick up on it… this is a bit difficult to swallow.

Still, despite Phillippe’s constant presence, the movie is too strong in other departments to suffer much from it. Aside from Cooper’s remarkable performance (which will unfortunately be forgotten by next year’s award season), there are strong supporting roles for Laura Linney (channeling Tommy Lee Jones) and Dennis Haysbert. Crisp cinematography in icy blue and gray colors lends a feeling of rigid professionalism to the film, which is quite appropriate. Pacing is relatively slow, but steady, starting and stopping at exactly the right points. The film also recognizes the fact that Hanssen is the film’s most interesting character, and gives his role the closure it deserves.

Another asset is Mychael Danna’s score, which is a subdued and somber affair. It is bleak and quiet, but not too bleak, and not too quiet. It manages to be rather spare and rather fluid at the same time, with some memorable thematic ideas working their way into the fabric. Piano is the dominant instrument in the score, which manages to accentuate the fact that this is a very character-driven movie, there are very few moments where the score pulls back and takes in the bigger picture, the sheer scope of the situation. It’s not as enjoyable or diverse as something like Danna’s score for “The Nativity Story”, but it’s very effective and I suspect it will make a reasonably satisfying score album. If I had to compare it to anything else Danna has written, I would call it the warmer, slightly larger cousin of “Capote”. Danna also provided a somewhat similar score for director Billy Ray’s first film, “Shattered Glass”. The movie also makes very good use of an old song by The Andrews Sisters as a piece of source music late in the film.

Breach may be a bit dull to some audience members (the person behind me at the screening I attended said, “sheesh, nothing happened the whole movie… I want my money back!”), but I suspect that if you’re the sort of filmgoer who doesn’t demand that something blow up every ten minutes during the dramatic films you watch, you’ll find “Breach” stimulating. There is the aforementioned problem of Phillippe’s performance, and a few lapses in logic, but the pros easily outweigh the cons here. Recommended.

Rating: ***½

Track Listing:

  • Dangerous World (4:37)
  • An Agent Named Robert Hanssen (2:03)
  • Gun Culture (1:25)
  • Morning Mass (2:10)
  • Dear Friends (2:16)
  • Get on the Boat (2:48)
  • A Full Day (1:59)
  • Double or Nothing (2:55)
  • The Last Drop (6:23)
  • I Matter Plenty (3:54)
  • The Arrest (3:16)
  • The Why Doesn’t Mean A Thing (1:42)

Running Time: 35 minutes 28 seconds

Varese Sarabande VSD-6795 (2007)

Music composed by Mychael Danna. Conducted by Nicholas Dodd. Orchestrated by Nicholas Dodd, Rob Simonsen and Mychael Danna. Recorded and mixed by Brad Haehnel. Edited by Jen Monnar. Album produced by Mychael Danna.

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