I’ve always had a hard time with this movie because I had a boss like this once…
It’s a very unique movie for a spy movie, #1 because it’s based on a true story and #2 because it’s based on a double agent in the American Intelligence Agency. Movies about mole hunts are not unique but this one is a little different because the FBI is akin to “lawyer detectives”. You can watch all the fascinating forensics on CSI shows but they boil down to finding a bit of evidence which forces a confession out of the accused. For the FBI to make a case, they needed solid evidence admissible in court and it wasn’t enough to have a little bit. They needed indefensible proof that Robert Hanssen was a traitor selling secrets to a foreign state. It’s a real and rational need that drives the suspense and thrills of this movie which is nice because it doesn’t feel as forced or artificial.
If I had to find an way to describe this movie it would be gray and uncomfortable. I don’t get some of the criticisms about their focus on someone unimportant – that was the whole point of his betrayal. It wasn’t money or revenge or blackmail or ideology. It was about pettiness, about someone sick of being ignored and passed over, it was about wanting to feel important. That kind of guy isn’t going to be a devil in a suit. The audience gets that but it can be challenging to accept that as a valid reason (because it’s not) and isn’t what we’re trained to expect. This would have been a completely different movie if it was all suspenseful wiretaps and car chases and climactic showdowns.
It was good and it was different.