Eric O’Neill, a young and upcoming FBI Intelligence Agent is assigned to the case of a Robert Hanssen, a senior agent who is believed to be a sexual deviant. He is assigned an undercover assignment where he has to work as Hanssen’s assistant and report any and all activities of his boss to nail him with some evidence. However, from his first few interactions with Hanssen, Eric realizes that if anything his new boss is devoutly Catholic and yes, maybe a little disgruntled with the Bureau itself. On more than one occassion he strongly makes his point that the Bureau appreciates and respects only the agents who ‘shoot guns’ and that the Intel folks are considered only pencil pushers.
Eventually when Hanssen gets closer to Eric, so far as to suggest Eric and his wife to join them at church and for a family breakfast thereafter, Eric confronts his handler for this assignment to find out what exactly he is trying to achieve by this assignment. In his opinion, Hanssen posed no threat to anybody and did not deserve to be spied upon. It is then that his handler gives him the complete picture as to how Hanssen has been suspected of being a traitor and selling vital intelligence information to the Soviets, and that he has been suspected of doing so for the past 25 odd years. His handler also informs Eric as to how Hanssen managed to get himself into a position where he was actually heading a committee whose only mission was to identify and weed out the Soviet mole in the system.
Given the gravity of the situation, and his relationship issues with his wife (primarily caused by Hanssen’s interference), and his slowly increasing respect for Hanssen, Eric is now faced with a situation where he has less than 2 months (before Hanssen’s retirement) to try and actually catch him red-handed passing on information. The second half of the movie deals with how Eric almost loses Hanssen’s trust, manages to regain it and nabs him in the act.
Although the movie deals with a reasonably small premise and pencil thin storyline, two facts make it a really good espionage movie. First is the fact that it is based on a true story, a story of possibly the worst security and intelligence breach in the history of the FBI. And secondly, although the viewer knows how the movie will end (halfway into the movie), the twists and turns it takes towards the end makes it an ‘edge of the seat’ thriller. This is one movie which all spy-movie lovers will really enjoy. Unlike the James Bond series which relies on the antics of a field agent, this is one movie which deals with the Intel side of the Bureau, more in the “Spy Games” genre.
Chris Cooper as Robert Hanssen plays the role of a lifetime and brings a lot of depth to the character. It is always difficult to play someone real, and Cooper adds that much more to this character by bringing in his gruff demeanour, angry looks, and brooding realism to the role. All in all this is one movie which would surely be enjoyed by people who like ‘cloak and dagger’ stuff.