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BREACH movie review, part one

We haven't gone to the movies in weeks, and finally went on Saturday. We were undecided, choosing among (1) BREACH, (2) the new Jim Carrey movie Number 23, and (3) GHOST RIDER.

I didn't know much about BREACH. This was intentional, because as soon as I heard it was about a top FBI agent who turns out to be a traitor – just the kind of story I love! – I stopped watching previews or reading reviews because I wanted to be totally surprised.

Too bad, because if I'd just listened to a bit more, I would have realized it was "based on a true story."

Have I ever mentioned the fact that I hate movies that are "based on a true story"? Whenever I hear that phrase, I know I'm in trouble.

Turns out – (as you probably know since you weren't living under a rock with me) – BREACH is the true story of Robert Hanssen, the spy of the century. In fact, the spy of TWO centuries, since he did most of his spying in the twentieth, but was caught in 2001.

Had I known, I would have waited for the DVD, because "based on" movies are almost always unsatisfying to me. And BREACH had all of the "based on" flaws, plus a new one that really infuriated me. Believe it or not, there's a disclaimer at the end of the movie that states, more or less: all of the juicy details about Hanssen are classified, so we couldn't include them.


They couldn't share with us all the evil things he did, so they just TOLD us he was evil. They broke the cardinal rule of storytelling, and they broke it over and over again. They told us he was important, that he had done amazing things in his career, that he had sold crucial secrets and betrayed countless persons -- just take their word for it though, because they couldn’t tell us what, or whom, or when. Or anything.

All during the movie, it felt like something was missing. But I thought maybe I was just being overly critical, given my prejudice against the based-on stuff. Then they showed that message at the end, and I knew it wasn't just my imagination.

How can they make the story of Robert Hanssen if they can't tell us what he did? Sheesh! Maybe in ten or twenty years, when the info is declassified, they can do a good job. But wasn't this particular effort doomed from the start?

Add to that the fact that the movie made all the regular "based-on" mistakes too. Dry characterization, stilted dialogue, a narrator who sees himself as a saint, when he's actually a dud. (The narrator is one of the FBI guys who caught Hanssen).

Chris Cooper – who played Hanssen – is an amazing actor, of course, and he did his best, but since all they could tell him about his character was that he was a guy who pretended to be holy and patriotic, but was really a pervert and a traitor, Cooper didn't have much to work with. His Hanssen was a caricature.

And don't get me started on the narrator. Clearly most of the material for the movie came from him, and he sees himself as the world's most hard-working and ethical person in the world. (See the irony? I'm pretty sure we'll find out some day that he's a pervert and a traitor. Or worse, just as dull as he seemed in this movie)

The best performances were the bit characters, because their hands weren't tied by the "facts." The best of the best was Gary Cole, but then, he's always the best, isn't he? They can't tie his hands no matter how hard they try.

Laura Linney did an okay job, but again, they boxed her in. One of the best things about acting talent is creating a character, bringing it to life. But they made Linney play this woman exactly as she existed in real life (but without any details, because those were classified). So again, the movie tells but doesn't show.

Hanssen's story is a fascinating one, I'm sure. Once the info is declassified, I'll be anxious to see the documentary. But even then, please don't make me watched a "based-on" version.

More later. I have not yet begun to rant.




( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 28th, 2007 01:47 am (UTC)
Last Saturday was date night among the Johnsons and we too were undecided between Breach and the movie that eventually won, Music & Lyrics. Light and frothy, with a kickass video ripped right out of the 80s, M&L was so gosh darned entertaining even DH cracked a chuckle or two. Or three or four. Glad to know we picked the right movie, or more accurately, that we DIDN'T pick Breach.

Feb. 28th, 2007 11:32 pm (UTC)
music and lyrics
I want to see that one too!

And I'm probably not being fair to BREACH. My husband liked it -- he'd give it 3 out of 4 stars. I'd give it 2 and 1/2.

It really depends on how you feel about movies based on true stories. I generally find them lacking, although there are some exceptions, of course.

The FBI detail seems somewhat authentic, so I enjoyed that. And I like Gary Cole. Also, President David Palmer was in it (I'm too lazy to look up his real name, but he didn't play Prez Palmer, of course, he played a high-ranking FBI guy and he was wonderful, as always.)

I feel a little guilty panning the movie this way. Plus, if you decide to see it, there's an issue I'm dying to discuss with someone (a female someone, not a male, b/c I can tell from my husband's reaction to it that it's one of those issues)

See you later. Go lions!

Mar. 1st, 2007 02:21 am (UTC)
Well, first of all,
I was under that rock with you, Kate, b/c I hadn't even heard of this movie. And I'm not really into "based on true stories" either. Saw one last year by Disney that I knew the real story of from family lore and newspapers and spent an hour picking it apart. As a matter of fact, about 2 minutes into the movie, I screamed, "THAT'S NOT TRUE!" at the screen but DH made me shut up the rest of the movie, LOL. And I did, til the movie was over.

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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