Despite much discussion of Catholic practice and belief in Breach, faith is shown as little more than an outward set of behaviors—church attendance, crucifixes hanging on the wall, Virgin Mary figurines. Still, part of what makes Breach so watchable is the conflict within Hanssen, who appears genuinely concerned with O’Neill’s spiritual life, but is perhaps more interested in using his knowledge to expose O’Neill’s ulterior motives.

Less compelling are the digs at Kenneth Starr, and images of former Attorney General John Ashcroft and President George W. Bush, which are sometimes designed to elicit laughter. But these moments are brief and take little away from this strong, suspenseful drama.

Phillippe gives a very nice performance here with much more screen time than in last year’s Flags of Our Fathers, where he had little chance to shine. Cooper continues a long string of excellent performances (Adaptation and October Sky are among the best), displaying the weariness of someone trying to outwit his countrymen, but tiring of the game. Laura Linney, outstanding in The Squid and the Whale and as a faith-challenged lawyer in The Exorcism of Emily Rose, has less to do here, but is nevertheless effective as O’Neill’s superior.

Breach ultimately concludes that the reason behind Hanssen’s betrayal is beside the point. “You are who you are,” one character sums up. “The ‘why’ doesn’t mean a thing.” Although such a resolution might be perceived as a cop-out in other films, here it works well, leaving aside the mysteries of Hanssen’s motivation (resentment and financial gain are alluded to, but never deemed decisive) in favor of a predominantly behavioral study of a slippery operative.

“The Lord is known by his justice; the wicked are ensnared by the work of their hands” (Psalm 9:16), and “A man’s ways are in full view of the Lord, and he examines all his paths. The evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him; the cords of his sin hold him fast” (Proverbs 5:21-22). In light of those truths, a final image of the captured Hanssen and his last line of dialogue are haunting.

Breach is an example of a strong studio film powered by high-caliber acting, open to differing interpretations. It’s a movie for older teens and adults to see and discuss—a cautionary tale about the perils of power and greed, and the deceitfulness of the human heart.

AUDIENCE:  Older teens and up


  • Language:  Lord’s name taken in vain; some profanity; negative references to Planned Parenthood, lesbianism, gay marriage, and the way women dress; anti-gay slur; a reference to rough sex and Hanssen’s predilection for strippers.
  • Sex/Nudity:  A videotaped image of Hanssen making love to his wife; discussion of Internet pornography; a crude reference to masturbation; a husband and wife sit in bed and talk.
  • Violence:  The FBI is described as a “gun culture,” and the agents engage in target practice; two point-blank shootings; a brief discussion over whether someone has “earned” the death penalty; image of a dead man lying in a pool of his own blood.
  • Smoking/Drinking:  Some drinking, although the characters state that alcohol consumption is forbidden by FBI agents.