by Tony Medley
Being an FBI Agent is mostly
slow, detailed, boring, monotonous, tedious work, which aptly describes
watching this film about how FBI traitor Robert Hanssen was caught.
Eric O’Neill (Ryan Philippe)
is training to be a Special Agent with the FBI. He’s chosen by Kate
Burroughs (Laura Linney) to be a spy on Hanssen (Chris Cooper), who is
suspected of being a rogue agent. It’s not explained why the FBI needs
O’Neill to do what he does because apparently they have all the goods on
Hanssen. I guess they wanted their case against him to be iron clad.
This is another of those “based on a true story” films, so I didn’t take
anything I learned from it to the bank. O’Neill is a real person who
worked as an advisor on the film, but that doesn’t mean that what we are
watching is what really happened. It’s so slow and boring that it could
be pretty accurate.
Director Billy Ray, who did
such a terrific job with “Shattered Glass” in 2003, strikes out here. He
has taken a mundane script (Adam Mazer and William Rotko and Ray; and
probably a lot more as this is a script that clearly never got the final
polish it needed; actually, what it needed was to be dumped and a brand
new script written, but this parenthetical statement has already grown
too long to continue to tell you what I really think about the script
except to ask where is William Goldman when we really need him?) and
made a film that is less entertaining than just reading the script might
be, and that is really saying something.
There is the obligatory story
of the long-suffering wife, Juliana O’Neill (Caroline Dhavernas), who
just doesn’t understand the secret work her husband is doing and which
is wrecking their marriage. How many times have we seen that story line?
In order to create tension,
Ray has inserted scenes that are nothing if not derivative. O’Neill has
to get the info off of Hanssen’s PDA, so Hanssen is sent to have his
picture taken while O’Neill purloins the data. But, hark! Hanssen gets
disgusted with the picture-taking and decides to go back to the office
sooner than expected. We see him walking back. We see O’Neill trying to
complete the job… Hanssen walking back….complete the job…walking back;
gosh, my heart was beating so! Then the FBI wants to go over Hanssen’s
car with a fine tooth comb, so O’Neill takes him on another wild goose
chase while they take it apart. Zounds! Hanssen decides to return
early…again! Will they get the car put back together and back in the
parking lot before Hanssen and O’Neill return? Be still my heart!
I would have thought Ray
would be up to this, considering the wonderful movie he made out of
“Shattered Glass.” But clearly this needed something that Ray couldn’t
provide. Probably the problem is that there just isn’t a story here. The
moral is clear: if there’s no cinematic value to a story, don’t make a
movie out of it.
February 15, 2007