FBI upstart Eric O'Neill enters into a power game with his boss, Robert Hanssen, an agent who was put on trial for selling secrets to the Soviet Union.FBI upstart Eric O'Neill enters into a power game with his boss, Robert Hanssen, an agent who was put on trial for selling secrets to the Soviet Union.FBI upstart Eric O'Neill enters into a power game with his boss, Robert Hanssen, an agent who was put on trial for selling secrets to the Soviet Union.
And there is a formulaic bit about damaging fathers and odd wives. More: there's the project command center that is drawn from movies and not from life. And finally, our hero is told the FBI's biggest secret in an open public place. This would never ever happen, and it is staged this way only to help the pacing of the thing in terms of stagecraft. And that DIA computer room, with the nice clean Cray-like machines, is from the same fantasy world as "Red October's" neon-lighted missile tubes.
But in spite of all this, it works. And especially compared to "The Departed," it works, simply, cleanly, deeply.
That's because the filmmaker decided early in the game that he was going to do what the Hong Kong "Infernal Affairs" did well and others copied: this business of actors playing characters who are actors. In this case, we have two such in the same boat.
We have a top information manager at the FBI working for the Russians and acting normal, even when leading the hunt for himself. We have the young under cover guy pretending to be simply a clerk. Each intuits the other is watching. The older man completely wins at the start, with the younger man eventually besting him in artifice. Its a calculation that the filmmaker makes, when deciding not to tell us why our young hero does what he does and where he gets the tools. In an ordinary story, that would hurt, but here it is a wise decision because such "explaining" would get in the way of the economy of the thing. And it is all about economic connection with us.
Its a bit counterintuitive that effective stories sometimes get better by lopping off story elements and information. But it is true. Some students of the Hanssen case believe that Hanssen's primary motive was to show his own importance (as a information security planner) by revealing holes in the system that he would have plugged. I wish this film would have worked with that a bit, because this notion of helping the system by hurting is system is both what the story could have been about and the means used to tell the story.
Still, a good one.
As a historical note, there's a reason folks from the FBI and CIA, even senior ones, can't wander into NSA computing facilities. Hanssen wasn't allowed, probably a good thing at the time. Opus Dei again.
Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
- Feb 24, 2007