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The deeply satisfying espionage thriller "Breach" explores how a Bible-thumping, power-hungry neoconservative could be just as dangerous to U.S. national security as a foreign terrorist.

Never heavy-handed with a message, this critique of covert crimes behind a Bush-like façade is a Hollywood thriller of the highest order and will dazzle audience members of any political leaning.

Based on the true story of a 2001 FBI operation that nailed the most damaging traitor in the Bureau's history, the film follows cocky trainee Eric O'Neill (Ryan Phillippe, "Crash") as he shadows Robert Hanssen ("Adaptation" Oscar-winner Chris Cooper), a 25-year FBI vet suspected of selling trade secrets to the Soviet Union.

Morally strict, devoutly Catholic and masterfully manipulative—on the surface, a "model citizen of Bush's America"—Hanssen makes slippery prey for a rookie like O'Neill.

The script, by director Billy Ray ("Shattered Glass") and two other co-writers, crackles with clever dialogue and generates tension through Hanssen and O'Neill's battle of wits rather than elaborate action scenes.

Laura Linney ("The Squid and the Whale") steals each of her scenes as the no-nonsense agent in charge of hunting Hanssen down. Phillippe appears stiff early on, but later displays crafty intelligence when O'Neill unveils surprising tricks of his own.

Cooper, however, dominates the film, turning in arguably the crowning performance in an already impressive career. His Hanssen is scary, funny and even sympathetic in his insecurity over being so low on the Bureau ladder.

The movie year may be young, but it's hard to imagine that 2007 will see many more performances as multi-faceted as Cooper's beautifully realized Hanssen in "Breach."

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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