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Film / Breach

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Breach is a 2007 film written and directed by Billy Ray.

It tells the Real Life story of the capture of notorious FBI spy Robert Hanssen. The story is told from the POV of Eric O'Neill, a junior FBI agent who was assigned to be Hanssen's assistant as part of the investigation to bring Hanssen down. Ryan Phillippe stars as O'Neill with Chris Cooper as Robert Hanssen. Laura Linney is an FBI counterintelligence agent investiganting Hanssen.


This Movie Contains Examples Of:

  • Bait-and-Switch Tyrant: O'Neill comes to admire Hanssen and seems to regard Linney's character as a Straw Feminist, given her insistence on investigating what he believes are trumped-up sexual deviancy charges. Only for Hanssen to turn out to be a traitor and the deviancy charges to be true. O'Neill outright apologizes to her afterwards, stunned at how much he's misjudged both of them.
  • Broken Pedestal: O'Neill comes to respect Hanssen, and is quite shocked to learn the truth.
  • But Now I Must Go: O'Neill leaves the FBI after Hanssen's arrest. Very much true to life: O'Neill claimed in interviews about the movie that he couldn't stomach life in the FBI after the case was settled, citing exhaustion and depression.
  • Churchgoing Villain: Hanssen. Truth in Television, as Hanssen was a devout Catholic who did indeed attend church every day.
  • Christianity Is Catholic: Justified, as Hanssen and O'Neill were.
    • Kathleen Quinlan (Bonnie Hanssen) makes an error when asking Juliana if she liked the "service". She should say "Mass".
  • Detective Mole/Hired to Hunt Yourself: O'Neill's supervisor mentions that Hanssen was this. Hanssen also alludes to this in his Motive Rant at the end.
  • Dirty Old Man: Hanssen, though he never really comes across as such, even after The Reveal that "the sexual stuff is all true" (the tape of him and his wife having sex aside). (He does make a subtly creepy comment about Catherine Zeta-Jones, whom the real Hanssen was fixated on.)
  • Door Closes Ending: After Eric runs into Hanssen on the elevator and assures him that he'll pray for him, the elevator doors close. Cue Fade to Black.note 
  • Foregone Conclusion: The movie opens with a press conference announcing Hanssen's arrest.
  • The Fundamentalist: Hanssen is a Catholic Traditionalist who attends a Latin service where attendees kneel throughout, doesn't react well to working women, fully expects Eric's wife Julianna to become a Baby Factory and claims to have "almost ripped the cable out" after seeing a gay marriage advocate on television.
  • Good People Have Good Sex: And Bad People Have Bad Sex. When O'Neill's supervisor (played by Laura Linney) originally assigns him to the case she tells him it's because Hanssen is a pervert who harasses his female subordinates, videotapes sex with his wife without her knowledge, and writes porn stories about her on the Internet. After The Reveal about Hanssen's treason she tells O'Neill that "The sexual stuff is all true. Irrelevant, but true." Later O'Neill blunders into watching one of Hanssen's voyeur tapes.
  • Hired to Hunt Yourself: O'Neill's supervisor reveals sadly that part of the reason that Hanssen has evaded capture for so long is that for a while the investigation into the mole's identity was led by Hanssen himself.
  • Historical In-Joke: Upon their first meeting, Hanssen tells O'Neill "If I ever catch you in my office again, you will be pissing purple for a week." In Real Life, Hanssen was fond of the phrase "That purple pissing Japanese", which is how the FBI caught on to his spying; he used the phrase in a conversation that was under surveillance.
    • Hanssen is seen with a DVD of The Mask of Zorro, and is later seen watching Entrapment. Hanssen was known to be obsessed with Catherine Zeta-Jones.
  • Home Porn Movie: Eric stumbles onto one of these of Hanssen and his wife. Even creepier, it appears to have been made without her knowing.
  • How We Got Here: The film opens with the press conference announcing Hanssen's arrest, then flashes back to two months earlier when Eric was first assigned to be his assistant. In-universe also, as by the time this happened, the investigation was already in gear.
  • Hypocrite: Hanssen, in spades. The most glaring demonstration of this is when he sternly chastises O'Neill for eyeing an attractive woman — "You're married!" — despite his own deviant sexual behavior. Not to mention how devoutly religious he is, even while betraying his country on a regular basis to the "godless Communists", no less.
    • He also chastises Eric for a suggestion that could put the Bureau at risk for infiltration, even though he's been giving information to the Russians for years.
  • Informed Ability: Hanssen is supposedly a Living Lie Detector, which is why Eric isn't given a cover story — "Hanssen would peel it away in a day". Later, after asking Eric several mundane questions, he is able to deduce which answer is false. But other than that, he fails to see through the numerous lies Eric tells him throughout the film, many of which are made under duress and should therefore tip off even the least perceptive person.
  • Kicked Upstairs: Hanssen. The reason, of course, being so the FBI can watch him while it makes its case.
  • Lock-and-Load Montage: Briefly, as the agents prepare to arrest Hanssen.
  • The Mole: Hanssen. Arguably also O'Neill after he is inserted into Hanssen's office.
  • Motive Rant: A subdued one by Hanssen at the end.
    "Can you imagine, sitting in a room with a bunch of your colleagues, everybody trying to guess the identity of a mole and all the while, it's you they're after, you they're looking for? That must be very satisfying, wouldn't you think?"
  • Not Wanting Kids Is Weird: Hanssen chides Eric and Julianna just for waiting to be more financially secure before even thinking about kids: "what is money compared to the blessing of family?"
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Hanssen, who makes several sexist, homophobic, racist, and ethnocentric comments.
  • Reading the Enemy's Mail: The FBI intercepts a letter from Hanssen to the Russians and realizes they are running out of time to make their case.
  • Sidelong Glance Biopic: The arrest of Robert Hanssen as told through the eyes of his clerk.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: A cheerful, upbeat Andrews Sisters song plays as Hanssen picks up O'Neill and drives him to Rock Creek Park, beginning an unbearably tense sequence — Hanssen is uncharacteristically drunk and speaking to Eric in a very cryptic manner, leaving the audience to wonder if he knows that Eric and the FBI are on to him and is planning to kill him.
  • Spiritual Successor: To Shattered Glass, director Billy Ray's previous film, which also focused on a protagonist with a dark secret and the investigation that exposes him.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: Hanssen's attitude towards women. In one scene, he's irritated by a woman's mere presence (the fact that she's wearing a pantsuit doesn't help matters — "Men wear pants. The world doesn't need any more Hilary Clintons."), and at the beginning of the film (before O'Neill learns the real reason he's been assigned to Hanssen), he's told that Hanssen has had harassment complaints filed against him by female subordinates. Truth in Television — in Real Life, Hanssen was a known sexist/misogynist and outright physically assaulted a young secretary who had the gall to disagree with him.
  • They Call Me Mister Tibbs:
    O'Neill: My name is Eric.
    Hanssen: No, your name is Clerk. And my name is Sir, or Boss, if you can manage.
    O'Neill: Yes, sir.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The real O'Neill was in fact assigned as Hanssen's clerk, but most of the rest of the film alters the course of events.
    • The real O'Neill knew from the beginning that it was a counterintelligence operation and was unaware of the deviancy complaints, completely the opposite of what's depicted.
    • O'Neill actually took Hanssen's Palm to FBI techs to download the data, rather than do it himself.
      • His panic upon realizing that he put it back in the wrong pocket is real, however. O'Neill has speculated that Hanssen would have killed him on the spot had he realized that the FBI was onto him.
      • The actual event was also far more nerve-wracking for O'Neill. To wit: he had, at most, fifteen minutes to grab the Palm, run down three flights of stairs to the FBI technicians in the van, wait impatiently while they were downloading the data, start back upstairs only to learn that Hanssen was in the same stairwell heading back to his office, run to the far side of the building while another agent intercepted and distracted Hanssen as much as possible, get back to the office, put the Palm in the wrong pocket, put it in the right pocket — to this day, he is not certain that he did and wonders how Hanssen failed to notice — put everything back the way he found it, and then get back to his desk literally seconds before Hanssen returned, doing his best impression of a person who had not just run up and down three flights of stairs in a near-panic. In describing the event later, he stated he never believed he'd actually pull it off, but he had no choice.
    • Although he did take O'Neill to church, Hanssen didn't interfere in his personal life to nearly the extent seen in the film.
    • The climactic scene where a drunk Hanssen takes O'Neill into the forest and starts shooting his weapon didn't actually happen.
    • The FBI didn't actually get the letter they read in the movie ("something has awoken the sleeping tiger") until after Hanssen's arrest. It was actually in the last package that Hanssen left at the dead drop in the park right before he was arrested.
    • However, other parts of the film were meticulously accurate. The park where Hanssen makes his last drop (and where he is arrested) was where the real Hanssen was arrested, and Hanssen did in fact leave a package in that spot.
    • Yet the final scene is still a fabrication. O'Neill never saw Hanssen after he was arrested. To this day, Hanssen (still in Florence Supermax) has no idea exactly how the FBI caught him, and certainly no idea that O'Neill was involved. People who interview Hanssen are specifically prohibited from discussing O'Neill with Hanssen (and since his information-input is very strictly controlled, it's not hard to otherwise keep him from finding out).
  • Wham Line/The Reveal: "He's a traitor."
    • An in-universe Wham Line for O'Neill, anyway. The Foregone Conclusion opening makes it less so for the audience, and as stated above, in Real Life, O'Neill knew this from day one.


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