DVD Release Date:  June 12, 2007
Theatrical Release Date:  February 16, 2007
Rating:  PG-13 (for violence, sexual content and language)
Genre:  Drama, Thriller
Running Time:  110 min.
Director:  Billy Ray
Actors:  Chris Cooper, Ryan Phillippe, Laura Linney, Gary Cole, Dennis Haysbert, Kathleen Quinlan, Bruce Davison

“Do you pray the rosary every day?” asks FBI Agent Robert Hanssen of his new assistant, Eric O’Neill. “You should.”

In director Billy Ray’s (Shattered Glass) Breach, faith and sexual deviancy are two ingredients that, along with simmering resentment, create a volatile cocktail. The true story of the fall of FBI spy Robert Hanssen (beautifully portrayed by Chris Cooper) shows how a man who tricked the U.S. government for decades was brought down by the very people he held in contempt, and how a young bureau employee who shared Hanssen’s Catholic faith led to the man’s undoing.

Ryan Phillippe stars as Eric O’Neill, plucked from a low-profile security position to assist FBI agent Hanssen in his role as head of “information assurance,” where Hanssen guards classified documents. Trouble is, he’s a sexual deviant who needs to be watched closely.

O’Neill soon finds out there’s much more to the assignment. Hanssen isn’t protecting the documents at all. Instead, he’s the target of a years-long investigation to root out a mole within the FBI—someone who has provided America’s enemies with top-secret data and who has been responsible for exposing the identities of undercover U.S. officials.

Hanssen’s motivation for betraying America is never quite clear, which is part of what makes his story so interesting. He’s frustrated by the lack of cooperation between different U.S. intelligence agencies—an eerie foreshadowing of what would underlie the events of September 11, 2001, a date that falls just months after Hanssen’s arrest. He also despises the ineffectiveness of the agents who worked with him to root out the FBI mole, not realizing for years that Hanssen himself was the betrayer. And he resents the higher pay and respect bestowed upon other intelligence officials whom he considers his intellectual inferiors.

But Hanssen’s conscience is unsettled, if not outright troubled, and how his sense of guilt feeds into his religious affinity is one of the film’s unspoken but most intriguing questions. Does he seek God because he desires to have his conscience cleansed? Is he merely using religion as a cover—something to keep others from sensing his criminal behavior? Does he strive to match the ideals of his spoken faith, even as he continually falls far short of those ideals in practice? In sum, is his faith genuine? “It doesn’t matter to me … the judgments of other men,” he says at one point. “I know what I’ve done.” (Hanssen and his wife subscribed to Opus Dei, but the film does not highlight any contrasts between Opus Dei and mainstream Catholicism.)

With O’Neill, the motivation is more transparent. His interest in religion is a means to an end—to earn Hanssen’s trust so as to glean information that might be used to bring down Hanssen. O’Neill’s faith is much less outwardly devout, but as his secretive job puts strains on his marriage, and as Hanssen insinuates himself into O’Neill’s husband-wife relationship, the aspiring young agent latches on to their shared Catholic framework to distract Hanssen and keep him from discovering what O’Neill is truly up to.