Like the opening of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," "Breach" ( begins with what is basically a prologue explaining the plot.
Except, in this case, the prologue is the real life press conference with former attorney general John Ashcroft instead of a Shakesperean sonnet — and the two star-crossed lovers are actually FBI agents Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper) and Eric O'Neill (Ryan Phillippe).
O'Neill is tasked with the job of watching Hanssen in order to catch him in the act of turning government secrets over to the Soviet Union. Since the film informs you about this in the beginning, the story becomes much more about the how and why than the bang-up ending most espionage films rely on.
Instead of infusing a true story with falsified car chases and gun fights, director Billy Ray transforms a two-hour discussion about the state of America between two men into a tense, intelligent thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat — even though you already know the ending.
Chris Cooper's portrayal of Hanssen not only turns a human into a monster but also grounds the entire film with an incredibly authentic performance. It's too bad Ryan Phillippe comes off a little too boyish for his role, because the interplay between the two could have been great instead of good — even if O'Neill's role in the case has been hyped up.
"Breach" is sharply directed, brilliantly written, and doesn't completely butcher the Washington D.C. area geography.
What really makes it stand out from the rest is the fact that it remembers that it's the story that counts, and not necessarily the ending. We all know how Romeo and Juliet end up, but that won't ruin the tale.