Chris Cooper is one of the best actors working today, a fact that—in an ironic twist—is backed up by so few people knowing who he is. Drop Cooper's name and you'll likely be met with empty faces and blank stares, but everyone knows him: He's the charismatic, tough commander in Jarhead, the self-loathing, militaristic neighbor in American Beauty, the free-spirited, toothless orchid hunter in Adaptation. And now, in Breach, he's Robert Hanssen, the FBI agent who was arrested in 2001 because for 15 years, he'd been selling top secret intelligence to Russians, making himself a tidy $1.4 million.
Unlike Cooper, everyone knows who Ryan Phillippe is: He's that dipshit who got dumped by Reese Witherspoon. Oh, yeah, and wasn't he in Cruel Intentions? With Buffy? Yeah, that's him. So let's think about Cooper and Phillippe for a moment, and then let's think about Breach—a film that has a fascinating, real-life storyline, a sharp visual style, and one of the most lopsided screen duos in memory.
Cooper, as expected, is fantastic as the conniving, apparently straight-laced Hanssen, while Phillippe, as expected, is bland and goofy as Eric O'Neill, the wannabe FBI agent who's bewilderingly tasked with spying on Hanssen. Meanwhile, an excellent Laura Linney squares off as O'Neill's badass boss, while Dennis Haysbert brings his usual tone of warm authority that's won him so many accolades from both 24 and those comforting Allstate ads.
The casting of Cooper opposite Phillippe is weird and frustrating enough—but even weirder and more frustrating is how Breach squanders its intense, creepy, true story to create such an utterly flat, paint-by-numbers thriller. Throughout, Breach wastes its material by progressing in a flat, easy line, from point A to point B, with nary a single line of dialogue that rises above what you'd get out of a Screenwriting 101 brainstorming session.
What Breach does have, though, is Cooper—who, in his scenes, elevates the film's enjoyable but staid sameness to something pretty great. At once arrogant and put-upon, cruel and pathetic, Cooper's Hanssen is a complex, riveting character. Meanwhile, Ryan Phillippe... well... man. It must've sucked to get dumped by Reese Witherspoon, yeah?