Billy Ray's new film Breach unfolds in the hazy shades of a Washington, D.C. winter -- steely blues and cold grays, concrete and frost outside and pale fluorescent light indoors. Junior FBI man Eric O'Neill (Ryan Phillippe) is working counter-terrorism, snapping photos from hiding and working on new database methodologies in his spare time -- he's a keener, an eager beaver, and he wants to serve his country and his career. Bureau higher-up Burroughs (Laura Linney) tasks O'Neill with a very specific job -- working as the clerk to FBI data-maven Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper), who's heading up the project to create the Bureau's new data-storage and handling protocols ... and, according to Burroughs, is a 'sexual deviant.' O'Neill's supposed to write everything down, make observations, report only to Burroughs and not tell anyone -- even his wife Juliana (Caroline Dhavernas) about the truth of what he's doing. It's hard for O'Neill, but in another way, it's easy -- because, as it turns out, even he doesn't know the real truth of what he's doing.
As played by Cooper, Hanssen is a stiff-backed hard-ass: he hates the Bureau's bureaucracy, resents his office lacking a window, curses the current data-storage methodology the Bureau uses. He's a fervent Catholic, his life revolving around Latin mass and service to the Bureau. In a series of carefully-crafted scenes, O'Neill gets to know Hanssen a bit -- and while Hanssen is a jerk ("Your name is 'Clerk.' You call me 'Sir' or 'Boss.' ..."), O'Neill can't understand why he's being assigned to ride a guy whose biggest crime seems to be being unlikable. Confronting Burroughs about his assignment -- he used to be tracking terrorists, now he's wasting time babysitting a man two months from mandatory retirement -- Burroughs explains the truth behind the truth. Hanssen has been selling secrets to the Soviets. For the past 22 years.