HD DVD Title: Breach (Combo Format)
Screen format: 1080P 1.85:1 VC-1 encoded
First theatrical release: 16 February 2007
Previously released on DVD/BluRay: Day and Date with widescreen and fullscreen DVD releases
Director: Billy Ray
Starring: Chris Cooper, Ryan Phillippe, Laura Linney, Dennis Haysbert, Caroline Dhavernas, Gary Cole, Kathleen Horberg
Sound Formats: English & French Dolby Digital Plus 5.1
Length: 1 Hour 51 Minutes
Subtitles: English, French
Rising star in the FBI Eric O’Neill (Phillippe) is on the fast track to becoming a full Agent when he is assigned to a role he never envisioned: working an internal affairs investigation into well respected veteran agent Robert Hanssen (Cooper). Hanssen, America’s foremost expert in Russian politics, believes he has been assigned to rework the Bureau’s aging and failing case management system, with O’Neill as his dubiously competent clerk. It’s all an elaborate ruse however, designed to trap Hanssen before he makes a final ‘drop’ to the Russians he has been selling secrets to for the last twenty years, and disappears. O’Neill must earn his trust and help the FBI bring the biggest breach in it’s history to a close.
Based on the true story as told by O’Neill, Breach is a fascinating look into the mind of Hanssen and into the mindset of modern FBI agents who sacrifice family lives and more for the sake of duty to their country. Cooper is highly believable as Hanssen, and Phillippe is a pretty good match of O’Neill based on the extras available on this disk. Linney and Haysbert are also craft especially interesting roles as the heads of the investigation into Hanssen and bring a sense of urgency and frustration to the parts. While Breach is slow in places, overall it is a compelling dramatization of this terrible damage to our country that would never have been exposed if it hadn’t been for this extraordinary investigation.
Sound Quality: 3/5
As a dialogue driven drama, Breach does not bring much if anything to the table in terms of deep bass or split channel surround effects. While the understated soundtrack by Michael Danna is stirring in a few parts, it rarely reaches the thumping crescendos that the HD DVD menu music hints at. Dialogue as expected is crisp clear and tightly focussed in the center channel. While the music does drift from the front into the rears, it never really makes its presence known. I did see this film theatrically and the version on this disk matches or exceeds my recollection of how that version sounded.
Visual Quality: 4/5
In viewing this film theatrically I noted that it had a very drab, utilitarian look that seemed to match the feel of Washington DC in early winter. Much of the color cast is bleached out and desaturated, not exactly going for a black and white look but at least hinting at it. This transfer nails exactly that look. While this doesn’t leave a lot for the eyes to get excited about, it is exactly what director Ray and cinematographer Tak Fujimoto intended. Many scenes are deliberately grainy and this transfer captures that without overdoing it. There are many areas of deep black and those come through with little noise or other artifacts that would distract, and I never noticed any pops, scratches or other imperfections. Most scenes are adequately sharp although several were obviously soft in the theatrical version, and again this transfer matches 1 to 1 with what I remember in the theater, none of the softness exceeds what was already there in the original film stock. In many ways this film looked better at home than it did in the movie theater simply because it was cleaner than the print I saw.
Extra Features: 4/5
Breach comes packed with a good assortment of extras, led off with picture in picture U-Control, what little I saw of that was good but I do not make a habit of going through a film hunting down embedded clips. Until I can cycle through them from a menu the U-Control feature is largely wasted on me. There is also a feature length commentary track with director Ray and Eric O’Neill, I do intend to go back and watch this film again listening to this track, it appears to be one of the most interesting commentaries put to disk, but I simply haven’t gotten to it yet. There are almost 20 minutes of wisely deleted scenes and alternate takes to a key scene, which were mildly interesting but not critical. There are also a handful of featurettes, led of by ‘Breaching the truth’ which recounts the making of the film starting with the germ of the idea by O’Neill. 'Anatomy of a character' details how Academy Award winner Cooper crafted the role of Hanssen. And finally, 'The Mole' is a Dateline NBC Undercover expose on Hanssen. All are well worth watching for the way they flesh out the background to this story.
Overall: 4/5 (not an average)
Breach is a smart and tense drama that thoroughly and somewhat accurately captures the real life events of a devastating blow to our national security. It also highlights some of the failings of our intelligence services and the frustrations and sacrifices those who serve in them make every day. While audio-visually Breach is not a knock out, it does match or exceed what was present theatrically on every point. Quibbles can be made about the added cost due to this being a ‘flipper/combo’ disk and the agony of using U-Control, but add in the nice batch of extras that flesh out the real life story behind the film and this is a disk that deserves a wide audience.