February 16, 2007, - 11:09 am

Weekend Box Office: Well Done “Breach,” But Film Focuses Too Much on Hanssen’s Catholicism

By Debbie Schlussel

I disapprove of women in pants suits. . . . The world doesn’t need any more Hillary Clintons.

Because movie studio reps held only one screening, each, of “Breach” and “Ghost Rider,” both of them at the same time, I was unable to review both, so I chose “Breach,” because the topic–the investigation of and arrest of the FBI’s most infamous double agent, Robert Hanssen, interested me more than Nicholas Cage playing a comic book hero. I was also unable to review, “The Bridge to Terabithia,” because its screening was held on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath. (It’s too bad because I liked that book as a kid.)
That said, I chose well. I liked “Breach” a lot. Though the story has been said and done before–in many books and a TV movie–this one is different.

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Told from the point of view of Hanssen’s FBI assistant, Eric O’Neill (played well by Ryan Phillippe), “Breach” juxtaposes the good but not fanatical O’Neill with the hypocritical spy agent (Hanssen is played very believably by the scary Chris Cooper).
The movie, written by the real-life O’Neill, tells the story of how O’Neill an FBI surveillance unit analyst (who badly wants to become an FBI agent) is assigned to become O’Neill’s assistant and spy on him. O’Neill says he changed parts of the movie from the real-life version. For example, he knew all along that Hanssen was a spy and double agent. In the movie, that’s not the case. He doesn’t initially know why he’s spying on this bitter, but kindly man he grows to like. (Read the interesting article by Detroit Free Press film critic Terry Lawson on the real-life O’Neill and the changes in the movie from the real story.)
The movie is dark, suspenseful, and exciting without any blood or gore. (There is only one tiny sex scene on grainy video and no swearing.) You are entertained and on the edge of your seat the whole time, even though you know the ending of the true story on which it is based. This is what a thriller is supposed to be like. And it works.
My one reservation–a major reservation–with this movie is the repeated hammering of the viewer on the Catholicism issue.
Both O’Neill and Hanssen are Catholics, and the movie plays this angle up, big-time–the good “lapsed” Catholic agent-in-training vs. the evil religous Catholic. Respecting religious Catholics as I do, that is the most troubling part of this movie. Yes, Hanssen was a very devout, Opus Dei Catholic. But there are plenty of Catholics populating the FBI, and none of whom (except Hanssen) betrayed the country.
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Ryan Phillippe and Chris Cooper in “Breach”

I wait for the day when a movie about the various disloyal Muslim FBI agents (like Gamal-Abdel Hafiz) and soldiers (a list too long to mention here) focuses on their religious hypocrisy. There are far more of them than there are Catholic versions of Hanssen.
And unlike Hanssen, they betray America in the name of Islam. Hanssen betrayed America for money, because he was disgruntled at not being appreciated or recognized by FBI higher-ups, and because he wanted to prove his complaints about holes in the system vulnerable to spying. None of those reasons are excusable. But none of them have a thing to do with Catholicism.
And I could have done without the one political crack at Kenneth Starr and the investigation of Bill Clinton, but there was also a great line for the rest of us–the best line of the movie, bar none, uttered by Hanssen:

I disapprove of women in pants suits. Men wear pants suits. The world doesn’t need any more Hillary Clintons.

Since gauche liberals in the audience hissed at the scene showing the changing of photos on the halls of the FBI building from Clinton/Reno to Bush/Ashcroft, I clapped loudly at that line about Hillary and pants suits. (For the record, I have pants suits, but a lot of skirt-suits–which I prefer–too.)

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2 Responses

Of course any movie from Hollywood wouldn’t be complete without bashing or inferring a bash of a religion that’s not Muslim. I have not seen the movie but I’m sure they left out the real details of his faith or lack thereof. I had a briefing on Hanssen a while back so I know quite a bit about the case and how his lack of faith entered into it.
Hanssen was raised Catholic but mostly in name only, since his father was a drunk and from what I understand, a wife and child beater. Hanssen did not convert over to Opus Dei until he met his wife. She was the real devout Catholic and I feel sorry for her, for being married to such a monster. Hanssen is a sociopath so his Catholic faith has nothing to do with his betrayal. It was all a game to him, to see how far he could push the limits. He did receive money and his wife found out about his first act of espionage and made him go to confession. The Priest told Hanssen to donate the money and not to do it again. I think Hanssen gave the money to Mother Theresa’s charity. As far as the church and his wife knew, he didn’t commit any further acts of treason. However, they were wrong, he continued to betray this country for 10 more years. Clearly being Catholic was just to please his wife and nothing more.
ACTUALLY, IN THE MOVIE, HANSSEN TELLS O’NEILL THAT HE WAS A “LUTHERAN IN NAME ONLY” UNTIL HIS WIFE CONVERTED HIM TO CATHOLICISM. O’NEILL WROTE THIS, AND HE WAS PRETTY TRUE TO DETAILS LIKE THAT. ALSO, IN GENERAL, CONVERTS TO A RELIGION ARE THE MOST FANATICAL, SO THAT WOULD FIT HERE.
DEBBIE SCHLUSSEL

Minnie Mouse on February 16, 2007 at 4:50 pm

Chris Cooper is such a fine actor. I’ve loved him ever since I first saw him in “Lone Star”. Ryan Phillipe is no slouch, either.

lexi on February 16, 2007 at 6:28 pm

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