Do you remember what you were doing in early 2001 when this story made the headlines? I sure donâ€™t.
Based on real life events, Ryan Phillippe plays the role of a rookie FBI agent named Eric Oâ€™Neill who is given the most important assignment of his young career: help capture a double agent within the FBI. Oâ€™Neill has been assigned to work with an operative named Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper) who was caught selling secrets to the Soviet Union for 15 years prior to his arrest in 2001. The movie tells the constant cat and mouse battle that Oâ€™Neill had to face with the top operative in order to bring the double agent out of cover and expose him one of the most dangerous traitors in the history of the FBI and the history of the US.
Beginning in 2000, Oâ€™Neill is assigned to work under Hanssen as he is re-assigned to a new technology assessment division aimed at keeping out cyber terrorists and electronic threats. Oâ€™Neill believes he is keeping an eye on him because he is a sexual deviant who has been participating in events online that could be an embarrassment to the FBI if made public. Before long, he becomes aware of what his real mission is and what his true role is in the case. As the case drags on, Oâ€™Neill must deal with not only the idea of turning in someone that he has come to respect but also the strain that it places on his personal life and marriage.
The Good And The Bad
I have always been a fan of spy films, from the fanciful and extreme world of James Bond to the films that tell true life tales from US and world history, I am always fascinated by them and in this case I found myself equally fascinated.
As I am unfamiliar with the case that this movie was based on, I cannot comment on how close it was to the true events but the writing in this film was told in a way that made it feel like it was a true to life adaptation. Nothing about this film ever caught me as over the top or too extreme such as with other films which made this a more enjoyable film for me. I particularly enjoyed the one on one scenes between Phillippe and Cooper as they constantly tried to keep one step ahead of the other and the lies that Oâ€™Neill had to tell both to Hanssen and his wife in order to keep his cover.
The pacing of the film was also something that I particularly enjoyed. Throughout each act and each scene, every line and every movement of the plot was planned methodically and really brought the audience in bit by bit until it was too late for them to run away. It took me no time at all for me to realize that I very much wanted to know about this case and what exactly happened.
I think that perhaps one of the biggest flaws of this film was something that canâ€™t even be blamed on the film makers which is that it seems like within the two months that Oâ€™Neill was working with Hanssen, there was more that couldâ€™ve been told and yet still keep the dramatic tension of the film alive. Coming in at just under two hours as it is, Iâ€™m sure that there was more story to tell but for the sake of keeping the audienceâ€™s attention, a lot of it could not be told which was a shame.
The music in this movie was kept soft throughout the film with it hardly ever going into a crescendo. Most of the music was kept simple with piano scores that had soft string undertones. The issue that I found most frustrating about the music and sound quality in general of this film though was that the dialogue was so muted throughout the entire film that I had a very hard time hearing dialogue as it was said and many times I actually missed key pieces of dialogue that led to me having to rewind and re-watch scenes in order to hear the dialogue again. Sometimes it was because it was because I couldnâ€™t hear what was said at all even though the volume on my television was turned very high and sometimes it was because I wasnâ€™t sure that I heard the dialogue correctly and in a film like this, I really wanted to make sure that I heard everything correctly.
There were quite a few extras included on this volume which were fascinating to watch starting with a commentary track featuring the director and writer Billy Ray and the former FBI operative himself, Eric Oâ€™Neill. Also included along the lines that I was mentioning earlier are 18 minutes of deleted and alternate scenes.
The best extras on this volume though are the behind the scenes features that tell the story behind the movie. The first two extras that take us behind the scenes is a special feature about how the movie made its way to the big screen as well as another feature in which Chris Cooper talks about how he got into the role of Robert Hanssen.
The last extra that I really enjoyed was the original news report from Dateline NBC in 2001 about the arrest of Robert Hanssen.
What this movie lacks in suspense it makes up for with a deep story and compelling characters. The film certainly reminds us better than anything else in recent memory that not everyone is what they appear to be. It kept my attention from start to finish and while it certainly didnâ€™t get much attention upon its release, it deserves much more attention now from the audience at home. It wonâ€™t earn many repeat viewings from me but it will be something that I tell others to watch at least once.
Final Grade: 80% – B