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With Breach, Billy Ray does it again. Will someone give this guy a medal? Or at least a gold statue? He hit one out the park writing/directing Shattered Glass, the movie based on the story of Stephen Glass, a journalist who completely fabricated more than half the articles that he wrote for major papers and magazines. In Breach, another movie inspired by true events that does more than just chronicle the real-life happenings, Eric O’Neill (Ryan Phillippe) works to bring down a higher-up FBI agent, Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper), who sold government secrets to the Soviet Union.

The plot sounds like The Falcon and the Snowman all over again (which wouldn’t be a terrible thing, anyway), but all the characters wrestle with trust and each other (emotionally) throughout the movie. These conflicts are spread-out enough to give us time to digest the rest of the film and not be too preachy.

Alfred Hitchcock said that the definition of suspense is seeing a couple that we care about, a bomb under their table, and waiting for it to go off, and once it blows up, the suspense ceases. My film professor recently gave a clearer, more focused definition of suspense: all it is is putting off the expected end result.

The movie doesn’t show suspense in a typical way. There are no ticking-clock countdowns or lives in peril. (There are stakes, nonetheless, but they include fame or “making agent”–and not the generic “getting out alive”–for example.)  As high-profile as his assignment is, Eric is never in danger. (Once, Robert waves around and fires a gun, but he does so in drunkenness, and it doesn’t concern Eric’s involvement with investigating Robert.) So, one might ask, where’s the conflict? After looking elsewhere for drama, we understand the intensity of trying to work inside the FBI and how keeping things secret (even if it is “for your country”) can be a hardship on your relationships with others, which are very dependent on trust.

The last scene alone is worth the price of a rental. The final two shots, a close-up of O’Neill and another of Hanssen, show that Phillippe and Cooper are such good actors that they’re faces alone can advance the story. The two last lines and their delivery are remarkable in revealing disappointment, anger, and betrayal. The final moments of this movie are one of the greatest accomplishments in American movies this year.

NOTE: I plan on watching this a second time soon, and I will probably change my rating of ***1/2 to ****. So if there’s a change in that area, don’t get confused.

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  1. […] Breach -Chris Cooper is incredible (again), and it’s Billy Ray’s (Shattered Glass) next movie. Need I say more? […]

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