In February, 2001, Robert Hanssen, a senior agent with 25 years in the FBI, is arrested for spying. Jump back two months: Eric O'Neill, a computer specialist who wants to be made an agent is assigned to clerk for Hanssen and to write down everything Hanssen does. O'Neill's told it's an investigation of Hanssen's sexual habits. Within weeks, the crusty Hanssen, a devout Catholic, has warmed to O'Neill, who grows to respect Hanssen. O'Neill's wife resents Hanssen's intrusiveness; the personal and professional stakes get higher. How they catch Hanssen and why he spies become the film's story. Can O'Neill help catch red-handed "the worst spy in history" and hold onto his personal life?Written by
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 the capital. See more »
Seen in the film is a Blue Mercedes-Benz ML Sport Utility Vehicle, not built until Spring 2005. See more »
Sunday, the FBI successfully concluded an investigation to end a serious breach in the security of the United States. The arrest of Robert Hanssen, for espionage, should remind us all, every American should know, that our nation, our free society, is an international target, in a dangerous world.
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The big arc here is the uncovering of a spy within the FBI, based on a true story. And that's interesting. But the movie works because of the mental and emotional sparring between the two leads.
First is the spy, Robert Hanssen, played brilliantly by Chris Cooper. He pulls off the brilliance and eccentricity you might get with this kind of person, and all without stagy exaggeration. This is a spy and a spy story worthy of John Le Carre.
Next to him is the young FBI worker, not yet an agent, Eric O'Neill, played by Ryan Phillippe. He's excellent enough to support Cooper, for sure, though he (maybe by necessity) is a more bland type. His struggle with why he (of all the FBI people possible) has been given the huge job of bringing this other man down is key to his depth.
Both men have wives, and both women are good—Hanssen's wife is played by Kathleen Quinlan and though we don't see her much, she's really good. And generally the cast supports this chilling, dry, steady intrigue.
In other ways, the movie is a bit conventional—professionally made, you might say, but without stylistic distinction. It's no breakthrough masterpiece. But what it tries to do telling this story it does with spare, direct force. This is no adventure tale —there is no real action. But that's good. It's compelling and interesting.
Since this is "history" or "based on truth" it's worth saying that only the large facts are followed. All the fun movie stuff—the meeting of the wives, the pistol shooting in two scenes, the sex stuff, and so on—are all invented. Apparently life is either too dull or too dangerous to really put on film.
But that's okay. It's a strong story. And Cooper steals the day.
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