The movie fictionalized much of Eric M. O'Neill's story. Among the changes made for the film: The real O'Neill knew going in that Robert Hanssen was the subject of a counterintelligence investigation. There was no cover story about sexual perversions, and no dramatic meeting where O'Neill learned the truth. There was no extensive contact outside the office between O'Neill and Hanssen as shown in the film (e.g. O'Neills visiting the Hanssens, Hanssens dropping by O'Neill's apartment); however, Hanssen did take O'Neill to church. The scene where Hanssen takes O'Neill out into the woods and drunkenly fires his pistol is fictional. Unlike in the movie, O'Neill never saw Hanssen after the arrest. While O'Neill did obtain Hanssen's PDA, he took it to FBI techs to download rather than downloading it himself.
In the hallway, we constantly see a poster with names and pictures of spies that have been caught, as well as short narratives of what their crimes were and how much time they're serving. These posters really exist in secure government facilities, and prominently displayed on all of them, since the events of this movie took place, is a photo of Robert Hanssen.
Robert Hanssen tells Eric O'Neill, "if I ever catch you in my office again, you're gonna be pissin' purple for a week." The real Robert Hanssen's undoing was a George S. Patton quote about "the purple-pissin' Japanese", a quote which Hanssen was fond of repeating. The FBI had paid a Russian agent $7 million for the KGB's file on the American mole - known to the KGB at the time only as Ramon Garcia. The file included a note of the mole about "purple-pissing Japanese" and Robert Hanssen became the prime suspect in the investigation. The FBI arrested Hanssen three months after receiving the file. The film concerns the last two months of the investigation.
In the film, Robert Hanssen has surreptitiously videotaped himself having sex with his wife and instructed Eric M. O'Neill to mail the tape to his friend James Hofsteller in Germany. Actually, Hanssen set up a closed-circuit camera and monitor (using equipment belonging to the FBI) so his friend, whose name is actually Jack Hoschouer, could watch during his visits to the Hanssens.
The true real life story of this film, as learned by the general public, began only months before September 11, 2001. On February 18 of that year, as the result of an ongoing investigation by a committed team of more than five hundred men and women in the FBI, Special Agent Robert Hanssen was arrested and charged with committing espionage.
One interior scene depicted Eric M. O'Neill (Ryan Phillippe)'s first day at Headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Investigation(FBI), his first day working with Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper) and his first day reporting to Room 9930. "You can't duplicate the FBI Building, said director Billy Ray. "It's so unique in terms of architecture. It goes up seven floors on one side and eleven floors on the other. It's built by design to get people lost. And Eric did get lost on his first day, which we are documenting in the film."
Once out of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Eric M. O'Neill recounted his experience of working with Robert Hanssen - and the unique relationship that developed between them - to his brother, David, who convinced him that the story would make a fascinating film. O'Neill sought and was granted approval by the FBI to move forward with the idea.
To assist the filmmakers in accurate recreation of the 2001 arrest of Robert Hanssen, the Federal Bureau of Investigation(FBI) gave the production an edited tape of the event so they could match it down to the last detail.
Eric O'Neill [Eric M. O'Neill], who is played in the film by Ryan Phillippe, was a 26-year-old special surveillance operative who, only three months earlier, had been recruited by the team to work as an assistant to Robert Hanssen, who is played in the film by Chris Cooper. The operatives planted O'Neill in the hopes that he could gain Hanssen's trust, further drawing the suspected mole out of cover. After the arrest, O'Neill was reassigned to his original position; shortly thereafter, he left the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to concentrate on his law studies.
Of his decision to do this picture, writer/director Billy Ray reflected: "I tend to be attracted to stories that are about deception. Or maybe I'm just attracted to characters that have that split down the middle - who are able to compartmentalize, to live one kind of life on the outside, and a very different interior life. It makes for more interesting stories. Ray continued: "Hanssen was a man of startling contradictions who did an unimaginable amount of damage to his country. He successfully spied on behalf of the Soviets and Russians for twenty-two years before being caught, so clearly he was an intelligent individual. But at the end of the day, he is an evil man and a traitor to his country."
Along with Scott Kroopf of Intermedia Films, the filmmakers brought the project to Universal Pictures, who green-lit the film. Kroopf said: "We agreed that this was a truly interesting story and a great concept for a movie, made all the more fascinating because it was based on a true story. We also believed that Billy [director Billy Ray] was the ideal guy to do this job, that he had the vision needed to pull it all together." With the project green-lit, the production team would turn its focus to casting the talent who would become the key players in one of this country's biggest take-downs.
The real life Juliana O'Neill recalled: "When Eric [Eric M. O'Neill] finally told me the truth, I was stunned and very relieved. A lot of things that hadn't quite added up over the last couple of months finally made sense. The newspaper stories appeared about this super spy being caught, and here I was married to the spy catcher - very exciting."
After the opening scene, code quickly flashes and is reduced to the movie title. The scrolling code is a Linux procedure that mounts (connects to) networked data sources such as Unix, Windows and Novell file systems.
The FBI Oath of the Federal Bureau of Investigation which is taken at Quantico upon graduation states: "I do solemnly swear to support, uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic, to obey the lawful orders and directives of those appointed before and above me, and that I enter into this office without any mental reservation whatsoever, so help me God."
From the beginning the production team knew that there would be a fine line between creating dramatic tension for a story and telling a true incident with characters who are still alive. Of the balance, producer Scott Kroopf related: "As a filmmaker, you want to take every step to ensure that you're accurate, but at the same time you have to keep in mind that you're making a feature film for entertainment value. He continued: "Billy [director Billy Ray] set a very high standard for himself with Shattered Glass (2003), by creating a really good story without veering too far from the truth. With Breach (2007), he really wanted to stick to the material, to keep it character and research based - to tell the true story but to keep it very dramatic."
Director Billy Ray kept Eric M. O'Neill involved in all aspects of the production, from rewriting the original screenplay, to putting it on the big screen. O'Neill said: "I worked closely with him to provide an accurate portrayal of events from an FBI standpoint."The former agent believes "this will be the most accurate FBI movie ever made." Ray said: "If you have a resource like Eric available, you'd be crazy not to use him. Eric was enormously helpful to me in the researching and writing of the script. And once the movie was cast, he was a great resource for Ryan [Ryan Phillippe] and Chris [Chris Cooper]. He had such insight into what Robert Hanssen was really like. Ryan had a slightly different take on Eric O'Neill than what I had written." Ray continued: "What Ryan saw was a power dynamic between O'Neill and Hanssen that shifted in a way that hadn't been scripted or anticipated. This came out of his meeting with Eric. He began to see that as much as Hanssen could be a bully, and as much as he could humiliate and belittle you, Eric occasionally slapped back."
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was extremely cooperative in assisting the production team in telling the story of Robert Hanssen and Eric M. O'Neill in an accurate manner. While access to the FBI buildings was limited, the filmmakers were given the honor of shooting key interiors scenes, including the FBI Plaza, which is the central inner courtyard in the FBI Hoover Building, and the Hoover Lobby, both of which are named after J. Edgar Hoover, and which had never before been allowed before.
To recreate Robert Hanssen's arrest in 2001 on Fairway Drive in Vienna in Virginia, close to the agent's home on Talisman Drive, director Billy Ray insisted the scene be filmed at the location of the actual arrest. He noted: "That was something I fought hard for. It took a bit of arm twisting, because it's expensive to shoot anywhere around D.C., but I wasn't going to shoot that scene anywhere else."
For the film, the production team wanted the audience's point of view to be Eric M. O'Neill's point of view - one in which O'Neill (Ryan Phillippe) starts off in the dark about what was really happening with Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper). Through dramatic license, director Billy Ray ensures the key piece of information is held back from O'Neill until halfway through the film, when O'Neill finally confronts Kate Burroughs (Laura Linney) about the real reason for his assignment.
"The sets are dead on", said director Billy Ray, proudly stating of the production design team's work. "Wynn Thomas can do it down and dirty, and he can do it big and beautiful; he has a sensibility that was dead on for this movie. It was exciting to see it all through Eric O'Neill's eyes [Eric M. O'Neill is played by Ryan Phillippe]. When Eric came to visit, when he walked the halls of the FBI and went into his office, he was amazed at how authentically it had been created."
Throughout his twenty-five year career with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Robert Hanssen spent the last twenty-two years of his service selling thousands of pages of valuable classified documents to Russia during the Cold War - and subsequently to the former Soviet Union. His betrayal included identification of KGB agents who were spying on behalf of the United States of America, as well as the U.S. template for relocation of the American President in the event of a catastrophic attack. A member of this team of federal agents was a young man named Eric O'Neill [See: Eric M. O'Neill].
The real life Eric M. O'Neill admitted to feeling a rush of emotions each time he walked onto the set. He shared: "Seeing Ryan [Ryan Phillippe] and Chris [Chris Cooper] in an office that's the exact clone of the one I worked in, and seeing Ryan and Caroline [Caroline Dhavernas] portraying myself and Juliana [Juliana O'Neill], really brought back memories of five years ago and a resurgence of the sensations I felt back then."
Co-writer and director Billy Ray, who admits a penchant for research-driven movies, agrees that you have to take certain liberties in order to tell a story that will draw in audiences. He said: "But, with Robert Hanssen, we didn't have to. His story is so compelling, so odd, we didn't have to make up anything about him in order to tell a good tale. Certain events had to be compressed, certain characters needed to be combined and names needed to be altered - where the anonymity of people had to be protected. But what we told is what happened."
In 2001, Eric M. O'Neill's new marriage to Juliana O'Neill was quite complicated by this FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) intelligence assignment. He said: "I would work all day on the case, then go to law school at night, and very often go back to the office. I was torn between needing to be with Juliana and balancing this major national security investigation. So, suddenly I was just this jerk who was working all the time and didn't even seem to have a good explanation for it. It was very difficult to lie to her, but I was required to. That just goes with the job."
Filming took place in Toronto in Canada from mid-November 2005 through to the end of January 2006. In the provincial Ontario capital, many of the film's interior locations were constructed at the Toronto Film Studio's sound-stages. At the end of January, production moved to Washington, D.C. in the USA, where the crew spent almost three weeks shooting exteriors and interior scenes that could only be lensed in our nation's capital.
From the beginning of production, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) proved to be quite an asset. Susan McKee and Debra Weierman of the FBI's Public Relations Team, took the film-makers on a tour through the FBI Building and their Washington Field Office. As so much of the story takes place in these two worlds, accessing those buildings was essential for production designer Wynn Thomas and his creative team; it allowed them to design and duplicate locations for the film. Thomas' group was actually allowed to document and duplicate all the signage, name plates, and various other items, right down to the old FBI movie posters in the cafeteria.
Production Designer Wynn Thomas worked very closely with cinematographer Tak Fujimoto and costume designer Luis Sequeira to make sure that the choices of color palette in lighting and clothing were in sync. "Billy was looking for someone who could nail the look of American studio movies from the '70s, and you can't do much better than Tak," said Thomas, who likewise credits a team including set decorator Gordon Sim, construction coordinator James Halpenny, and key scenic artist Ian Nelmes.
Intelligence agencies featured and/or referenced in this motion picture include the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, the KGB, the DIA, the SVR, the Council for Intelligence Policy, and a generic reference to various intelligence agencies of the U.S. armed services.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
The film's closing credits epilogue states: "Robert Hanssen is now serving a life sentence in the Supermax Federal Penitentiary in Florence, Colorado, where he spends 23 hours per day in solitary confinement. In 22 years of espionage, Hanssen betrayed at least 50 human sources. Three are known to have been executed by the KGB. The full extent of the damage done by Hanssen to the U.S. government and its allies remains classified. Eric O'Neill [Eric M. O'Neill] left the FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation] in May of 2001. He and Juliana [Juliana O'Neill] remain in [Washington] D.C., where Eric now practices law."