Chris Cooper did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Robert Hanssen in Breach.
Chris Cooper plays the man Robert Hanssen who were are first introduced to after Eric has been assigned to monitor him while initially only being told that Hanssen is a sexual deviant. Hanssen first makes his entrance as essentially the ultimate ball buster, he even literally threatens Eric with such an act when Eric fails to covertly exit Hanssen's office. Cooper makes everything you'd want Hanssen in this regard as in the office scenes he carries a constant intensity, as though he hates everything about the job, and seems to hate most everything. Cooper is particularly successful in realizes the unabashed nature of Hanssen's attitude towards people. There is not a hint of respect in Cooper's eyes dresses down Eric on their first meeting, and it seems as though he might be ready to start beating the man at any moment. Although Hanssen never does physically accost Eric during the film, that initial threat is made authentic through Cooper's performance.
What Cooper does is carry a realistic menace through the man, because he so effectively gets across the style of a man who is best described as a hard ass. It should be noted that Cooper makes much of the film simply through his performance. Cooper is indeed quite entertaining here in portraying just how crude and cruel Hanssen personal manner can be. Cooper though enjoyable does not overplay his hand in this regard to the point of making Hanssen a caricature of this sort of man. That's not the case as Cooper always manages to attach this behavior with something deeper within Hanssen. In his most overt behavior Cooper does seem to allude a certain effort in Hanssen's behavior. This is not that it is false, the rage towards certain things in life and at work are all too real, but it is more than would be natural for a man. Cooper portrays it partially an specific act of Hanssen attempting to hold some sort of dominance as he sees himself in a lower position, but just as much a instinctual behavior brought upon by the same sort of treatment from his father.
Cooper's performance simply as the ultimate hard ass is quite fascinating as even in this he creates a certain duplicity as he shows the man's behavior as both authentic and artificial. Cooper splices in a third facet into Hanssen's anger which is oddly enough fear. Cooper brings an undercurrent of vulnerability even within his very commanding presence. Cooper alludes with this a subtle paranoia into Hanssen's personality suggesting that he is partially aware of the forces closing in around him, but not fully to the point that he can be sure of it. Cooper builds upon this especially well through the progress of the film as the investigation closes closer in on Hanssen, and his falls seems almost inevitible. Although I'd say the film overplays this a tad in giving a little too explosive of a scene, where Hanssen interrogates Eric at gunpoint about his suspicions. Even if the scene is perhaps slightly excessive Cooper is on mark in portraying Hanssen near the end of his breaking point, as he presents that the paranoia finally overwhelms the rest of his personality.
That is not all there is to Cooper's performance though and one of the most remarkable elements of his work here is that he manages to make Hanssen likable to a certain extent. There is a charisma Cooper realizes through the personality of this man who seems to have such strong convictions. When Hanssen speaks of his religion there is a genuine enthusiasm Cooper brings to the subject, even if there is a certain pompousness at times towards it as well, Cooper manages to make Hanssen a virtuous man, even though he is not in reality one. Cooper even exudes just a bit of warmth in the moments where Hanssen attempts to encourage Eric's own faith, earning it to the point that he does portray Hanssen's faith real though horribly hypocritical. His less appealing beliefs are not sugar coated after all, and Hanssen's double life is all too real. Cooper manages to make Eric's initial respect for him completely believable thought by creating the appeal of this man who appears to do things his own way without exception, the problem being that this is too true.
Hanssen is of course the spy as well as even the sexual deviant who makes his own sex tapes without his wife's knowledge. The film never quite gives us the worst side of Hanssen because it rarely leaves Eric's perspective, and the most we get is a flashback montage of Hanssen's illicit activities. Cooper does not seem limited by this, as his performance allows one to see the evil within the man's public personality. There is always a certain darkness that Cooper suggests is in the man, so whenever something is revealed it does not seem odd at all. What Cooper does so well is suggest Hanssen to basically be a mess of a man who happens to carry himself in a precise way. Much of his life is illogical, but that's merely because it's his way always his way, which is what Cooper always suggests is Hanssen's greatest passion. Even in capture Cooper effectively keeps Hanssen as the same sort of man. He portrays his surrender as a quiet resignation, but still carries a certain pride in himself as he attempts to try to boast about having it his way. Cooper though is particularly moving in his final short moment where he shows a despondent Hanssen who has finally suffered from the weight of reality. It's a strong performance that manages to elevate the material and Cooper always remains compelling even when the film falters.