Phillippe Gets Serious in Breach

I’m not too sure when or how it happened but at some point Ryan Phillippe became a serious actor. From last year’s best picture to a political thriller opposite Chris Cooper, the former pin-up boy has come a long way since dodging crazed killers with Jennifer Love Hewitt.

Breach stars Phillippe as Eric O’Neill, an aspiring FBI agent. His tech-savvy ambition lands him a special assignment working under and spying on career agent Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper). Eric soon discovers that there is more to his assignment than his debriefing revealed. Besides being a sexist, homophobic, religious nut, Hanssen also happens to be a Russian spy costing the US government millions of dollars and countless lives.

Based on the true story of one of the boldest security breaches in American history, the film illustrates how this notoriously smart and sly man was reigned in and captured by an innocuous rookie. The suspense exists not in the unravelling of the story, or the whys behind Hanssen’s betrayal (in fact, the film wisely steers clear of such cliched moralizations), but in the push/pull relationship between these two multi-dimensional, intriguingly flawed and real characters.

Now, it’s no surprise that the likes of Chris Cooper and Laura Linney are able to bring complex and convincing characters to life. But where did Ryan Phillippe’s performance come from? Out of nowhere, he swoops in and actually holds his own against the aforementioned “character” actors- indie film royalty. At times, there are actual visible layers to Phillippe’s performance. It is astonishing and unexpected with a little bit of fantastic-ness thrown in.

Once that shock wears off, there are still plenty of things to get excited about here. The action itself is impeccably well-paced, and avoids the inevitable bogging down with historic fact that encumbers most films in this genre.

The film is not perfect. The story is not fully coherent. On more than one occasion some groan-inducing one-liners pop up in very odd places. The ending was not as satisfactory as it could have been and a bit more suspense could have been thrown in throughout (the overly-eager trailers are not at all helping with that one). On the whole though, Breach is an entertaining thriller- even though Phillippe keeps his shirt on (because, in case I didn’t mention it, he’s a serious actor now).

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