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Breach, Billy Ray (2007)

My favorite movies satisfy both my dumb antediluvian need for a dramatic plot and my higher instincts’ desire for something to think about that exceeds mere plot, and this does the trick. It’s a spy thriller, based on the true story of Robert Hanssen, and performs its entertainment function very well. But Chris Cooper’s excellent performance as the twisted Hanssen takes the project to another level, giving us cause to think about all sorts of thorny conflicts: desire vs. self-control, patriotism vs. nationalism, loyalty vs. fealty, and so forth. Hanssen was (probably is) insane or evil or both, of course, and a documentary-type film would have led inevitably to that one-dimensional conclusion. Cooper, though, makes a morality tale Hanssen’s internal conflicts, putting me in mind of Graham Greene’s whiskey priest in The Power and the Glory: another devoted but deluded Catholic trying to do the right thing but convinced he can’t and not sure what the right thing is anyway.

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