Under the Mask


In Breach, playing the traitor Robert Hanssen, Chris Cooper looks and behaves like all of Graham Greene’s tormented Catholic heroes rolled into one: the compressed lips and narrowed eyes that accuse and self-accuse; the slightly stooping but decisive stride signaling that guilt may be a burden but doesn’t get in the way of action; the jesuitical scrupulosity that can be, by turns, warmly paternal and coldly interrogative; the secret vices that no longer give illicit pleasures but are retained as just so many hair shirts; the utter spiritual exhaustion of a burnt-out case. Whatever research the actor did has been absorbed into his bones. Before the movie is half over, you know two things: Hanssen’s spirit is in an advanced state of corrosion, and you long to know everything there is to know about this guy.

Well, keep longing. The scriptwriters Adam Mazer and William Rotko and director Billy Ray cunningly keep you from knowing anything for certain about Hanssen, the FBI computer designer and Kremlinologist who may have perpetrated the worst intelligence breach in U.S. history. You see the traitor strictly through the eyes of Eric O’Neill (Ryan Phillippe), the young Fed assigned to bring Hanssen down, and what O’Neill sees are a series of paradoxical surfaces. Hanssen is a devout, even fanatical Catholic and he feeds information to godless Communists. He scorns money and takes blood money. He preaches the...

To read the rest of this article please login or become a subscriber.

About the Author

Richard Alleva has been reviewing movies for Commonweal since 1990.