Scene in D.C. is our new series highlighting film and television shot in the District.
Most films use D.C. badly. They only focus on the most famous sights, or limit what they shoot inside the city limits because of the city’s notoriously security-minded permit system. Sometimes the geography is all wrong: in No Way Out, Kevin Costner’s character takes the Metro from Union Station to Georgetown, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier decimates Theodore Roosevelt Island to make room for a giant hovercraft.
It is a breath of fresh air, then, when a movie gets D.C. right, and no movie captures the city better than the thrilling docudrama Breach. The film is about Robert Hansen (Chris Cooper), a former FBI chief who was later found to be the biggest traitor in the history of the United States, selling secrets to the Russians. The film follows how a small time agent named Eric (Ryan Phillipe) finds himself in the center of the investigation, going undercover as Hansen’s protege.
Breach gets D.C. right because of the small details: characters use the right Metro station, Eric’s apartment looks like what you would expect from a GS11, and the climax takes place in Rock Creek Park at night. Still, the film’s storytelling masterstroke is to use D.C. as part of the story. There is a suspense sequence where Hansen is due back to the office too early, and to bide time, Eric puts both of them into a traffic jam on Ohio Drive. Few things are more demoralizing than D.C. rush hour, and here the film uses that ubiquitous problem for dramatic effect.