Saturday, February 17, 2007


In 2001 the FBI discovered they had one of the worst cases of blowback in American Intelligence history. Robert Hanssen was the true life double spy giving secrets to the Soviets for over 25 years. This much is also explained to us as the film begins by the former head of the Justice Department John Ashcroft. Robert Hanssen is a family man a devout Catholic and an extremely disgruntled civil servant of the FBI. The story itself is nothing new and the ending is abrupt and very unHollywood like, after all it is based in the real world so there is no real smoking gun and a shoot out to the death between FBI agents Hanssen and his clerk O'Neill. This is a character study of a man who was living two lives.

Eric O'Neil (Ryan Phillippe) is assigned as a FBI clerk to a top intelligence agent named Robert Hanssen(Chris Cooper). O'Neil's handler Kate Burroughs (Laura Linney) tells Eric that his orders are to observe Hanssen's conduct as a possible sexual deviant, of course this spirals into a conspiracy to commit espionage. Eric must tread a fine line between the truth and lies in order to catch his boss passing information to the enemy.

Chris Cooper is amazing as the creepy, but efficient Hanssen. He owns his secret nature and his dual life as a deeply religious man who has utmost disdain for homosexuals and for strong women, ala Hillary Clinton. As the film deepens Hanssen's hypocrisy is shown as he enjoys a penchant for sex tapes, and tends to get drunk on occasion. He is a difficult man to read and he is Batman like in smoking out deception which makes him a formidable opponent. The question is why did he did it. Was it for money? Was it to get even on a government that has passed him up for promotion? Disillusionment with the constitution? The film explores all of these possibilities but they do not try to make a definitive conclusion so be prepared. This I think is a good thing because I don't think we'll ever truly know why Robert Hanssen did these things, but that is not the true intent of the film. As I said before it is a character study in deception and hypocrisy. Ryan Phillippe is good as the cocky and self sure O'Neil. Laura Linney is a bit stiff as O'Neil's handler but that is the role that she is playing. Again the star of this show is Hanssen himself and all of his peccadilloes. It is intriguing to watch and if this were October I would say that Chris Cooper would very easily earn an Oscar nomination.

Grade: 4 Buckets

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