NOTE: This spoiler was sent in by William who says: "...the movie is pretty damn good. Mainly because of a riveting performance by one of my favorite actors Chris Cooper."
The movie opens with news footage of former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft talking about the capture of Robert Hanssen. A former chief FBI agent and multi-decade veteran of the agency; Hanssen is now exposed as a traitor for his countless acts of malfeasance and treachery. The speech is made even more ominous and foreboding as Ashcroft mentions "it’s important for Americans to realize this country still has enemies". A comment made even more poignant by the fact this speech was made in early 2001, with the coming catastrophe of 9-11 looming on the horizon.
The film then moves back in time several months to the year 2000, before Bush took power and Clinton was still President. We begin on the streets around DC. We see an arab man and a arab woman arguing on the side of a street. Along the other side we see what appears to be a homeless man pushing a cart down the road. However, it quickly becomes ostensible that this guy is no mere street bum. The man quickly ducks down behind his cart and pulls out a camera from it and surreptitiously begins snapping photos of the two. This is FBI operative Eric O’Neill (Ryan Phillippe). Next we see Eric being picked up by his young FBI colleagues. The two are trying to become full-fledged agents just like Eric. They begin to chide and ridicule him for pushing a proposal that focuses on recommended changes that should be made in FBI investigative procedures that Eric previously authored and is now aggressively trying to disseminate throughout the agency. They claim he is just looking for exposure and notoriety. However, O’Neill brushes off their claims and maintains that his proposal is intended to improve the FBI’s routines. He then goes onto mention that he even gave them a good deal of credit in the proposal, naming them specifically. Suddenly, the two turn from mockery of Eric to adulation in a very humorous way.
The next day we see Eric at the FBI headquarters working at his desk. Suddenly another agent comes over to him and tells him that one of his superior agents wants to meet with him. He follows and it is here that he meets Special Agent Kate Burroughs (Laura Linney). Kate tells him that they’ve decided to give Eric a special assignment. Initially Eric seems to be acting a bit cocky as if he was expecting such a assignment to fall into his lap. Kate tells him to start acting serious and drop the act. She also patronizes him, telling him that this mission has nothing do with that "annoying proposal you’ve been trying to push". Eric seems a little miffed over the comment but ignores it. Kate tells O’Neill his duty will be to watch another senior FBI agent, Robert Hanssen. She tells him that Robert’s is a sexual deviant and that his actions could potentially humiliate the agency and undermine its effectiveness. Eric will be required to keep tabs on all facets of Robert. Where he goes, who he sees, what he says, etc. Eric seems eager to take on the task.
Eric then goes home to tell his wife Juliana O’Neill (Caroline Dhavernas) that he has finally been given a real assignment at the FBI. Though he doesn’t give her the specifics he informs her that this finally means big things for him at the agency. O’Neill’s wife is originally from formerly communist East Germany. Eric is a Catholic and his wife is a Protestant, but neither of them are actively practicing their religion. Something that will become a factor very soon.
Eric arrives back at the FBI HQ in the morning to begin his new job. He arrives at Hanssen’s office and goes in. Robert has not arrived yet so Eric takes a moment to look around. There are two parts to the office. An outside potion with a desk and computer where Eric is supposed to work and an inner more lavishly decorated and furnished portion where Hanssen’s works. This portion is private and has a shut door, but Eric opens it and peers inside and then takes a brief tour of the room. He goes back to his desk outside and finally special agent Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper) walks in. Eric stands up to greet Hanssen. Hanssen looks at Eric suspiciously and tells him "Tell me 5 things about yourself, 4 of them true". Eric seems perplexed by this. Robert tells Eric it was an old FBI game to try and see if you could spot the lie. Eric tells Hanssen "Well I wouldn’t be very good at bluffing". Robert retorts "That would’ve counted as your lie right there".Robert walks into his private office, but then immediately walks back outside and excoriates Eric, telling him "if you ever go into my office again you’ll be pissing blue". Eric seems very perturbed by this. The man he needs to observe is clearly very perceptive and adroit. His job won’t be easy.
Later, O’Neill goes through a series of events with Hanssen that allows him to get better acquainted with who Hanssen is as a person. Eric is trying to fix his computer and Hanssen asks him what is the problem. Eric tells Robert that the computers they are using are very antiquated. So Hanssen tells him to simply get one from the stacks of new computers the FBI has laid out in the hallway. Eric tells Hanssen that those computers are only supposed to be dispensed when properly authorized by the proper authorities. Robert tells Eric that nothing gets done here without doing it yourself. He orders Eric to just go and take one. Later he takes Eric on a tour around the building and shows him a room where the FBI are looking for a mole within the CIA. He says there is not one member of the CIA present in that room even though they are looking for a traitor within the CIA itself. Robert tells Eric this is because the two agencies do not cooperate or coordinate their efforts. It becomes clear to Eric that Hanssen clearly has a problem with the FBI’s leadership.
Next, Eric learns of what an old fashioned mentality Hanssen has in an incident on an elevator. The two watch a woman join them and then leave the elevator. She looks very studious and pedantic. Robert seems to disapprove of her professionalism and tells Eric "the world doesn’t need anymore Hillary Clinton’s".
Finally, Eric gets a chance to discover the most important attribute of Robert’s character. His deep religious devotion as a Catholic. He takes Eric to a church/religious store. White in the store area he tells Eric about how he was watching a news program last night and how he was watching "Some woman arguing in favor of abortion. Obviously a lesbian, of course!". He then tells Eric that he was once a Lutheran and that hew did not take his faith seriously. Hanssen says his wife set him on the right path and turned him into a devout Catholic. He then takes Eric into the church and asks him about his own religious faith. Eric tells Hanssen the truth that although he is a Catholic too, he has not followed his faith that fervently for some time. Hannsen then tells Eric that he needs to take his faith seriously. He says that he was a Soviet expert for many years. He further comments that the Russians were smarter and more shrewd then the U.S., but they still were toopled. He asks Eric "Do you know why the Soviet Empire collapsed". Eric shrugs and Robert replies "Godlessness".
Later Eric asks Hanssen in his office if he still wants the list of the 5 things he mentioned earlier. Robert says yes and Eric gives his list. Among them are the fact that Eric received a Boy Scout merit badge in every activity except marksmanship, his favorite drink is a vodka tonic and he is the only member of his family in 4 generations not to serve in the military. Hanssen immediately responds "So what is your favorite drink? A bourbon?". "Scotch", Eric replies. O’Neill clearly seems very astounded at how quickly Hanssen with his keen senses, discerned Eric’s lie among the list. Hanssen admonishes Eric for drinking, telling him that an FBI officer is never supposed to drink even off duty, because an FBI agent is always on duty.
Eventually Eric receives a pager message, which reads "7*". This is the pre-defined signal for him to meet up with special agent Kate. He finds her in the evening and he inquires if the reason why he was chosen for this assignment was because he was Catholic. Kate tells him they chose him because he is unknown in the agency and this would make it harder for Robert to analyze him. She also tells him the primary reason he was chosen was because they felt he had a personality and background that was conducive to establishing a trusting relationship with Hanssen. Eric seems frustrated that Kate is holding something back from him, but leaves and agrees to contact her with any new information.
When Hanssen and O’Neill meet again Robert tells Eric about the fundamental structure of the FBI. He says it’s a shame that Eric isn’t a very good marksman because it is an important ability in the FBI, as the FBI is primarily first and foremost a "shooter’s club" as he calls it. He says the backbone of the FBI is in law enforcement and not intelligence (which is the department he and Eric work in). He says that because Eric and himself work in intelligence this will naturally hinder their advancement. Robert says that their has never been a head of the FBI taken from the intelligence wing so promotion is not the reason for working in that field. He says the reason to work in that section is for the thrill of working in "clandestine operations".
Later on Eric is invited over with his wife to meet with Hanssen and his wife. The two couples attend a Catholic mass together. Hanssen’s wife clearly feels uncomfortable being there with such a pious individuals as Hanssen and his wife. Eric and his wife then go over to the Hanssen household. There Robert seems awfully critical of Eric’s wife Juliana for her more secular ways and he seems to almost have a exude a sense that she is a bad influence on Eric, steering him away from his faith. Eric can clearly see from observing Mrs. Hanssen that she is a very religious woman and this is clearly where Robert got his deep religious conviction from. Eric sees Robert playing with his family and the two later become very friendly in Robert’s private den in his house. Robert tells Eric he wants him to feel right at home. The two have clearly now grown much closer. Robert now seems to be having a great deal of influence on Eric. Juliana takes notice of this.
This of course in turn takes its toll on Eric’s relationship with Juliana. At home she criticizes him for looking down on her for not being "American or Catholic" enough. Eric tells her that she is being ridiculous. The argument flares up until Eric has had enough and storms off. Its clear he doesn’t see why he has been put on this assignment.
He then again meets up with Special Agent Burroughs. He tells her that he feels this assignment is preposterous and that he feels it is some sort of "witch hunt" to get Hanssen because he doesn’t play by the rules. Kate laughs at this and tells Eric "So, you respect him now?". Eric admit that he does. Kate says this was to be expected. Eric tells her that he doesn’t see how this seemingly "perfect family man" and "religious individual" could be the deviant Burroughs painted him as. Especially given the fact he has seen no evidence of such debauchery. Kate then says that there is much more to this then just what she originally told him. She tells him bluntly "Hes a trator Eric". She continues to tell him the FBI believes he has been spying for the Russians since the mid-80's. Eric is bewildered by this and wonders how she knows this. Kate tells him that around a year ago a top Russian defector presented the U.S. with evidence of many of the known intelligence assets the Russians have within the U.S. Chief among them was Hanssen. Kate tells Eric that they could not move against Hanssen since by law the evidence this defector gave is not permissible in a court of law. She then goes into a long list of all the damage Hanssen has done to the intelligence community. He gave up several Russian assets the U.S. had working for them (two of whom we see being killed in a flashback). He also gave up a long list of U.S. agents working on Russian intelligence and in other areas. Hanssen gave the Russians access to codes and plans on top U.S. security operations among other things. She tells him that Hanssen even gave up the top secret plans to evacuate the President and top government VIPs in the event of a nuclear attack. Eric is utterly shocked by this revelation. He now realizes the full scope of his posting as Hanssen’s assistant. Kate also tells Eric the stuff about Hanssen being a sexual deviant is true, but it’s the least of their problems.
Later Kate takes Eric back to a secret room setup within the FBI HQ. This room is full of around thirty to forty people working full time on solely the Hanssen treason case. Eric now realizes that not only was his job a front, but the office in which he works in with Hanssen is too. Kate tells Hanssen that the office was specifically created to catch Hanssen and that it is replete with bugs and monitoring devices. She apologizes for not telling Eric more up-front. It is here that Eric meets two other chief special agents he will be working with: Dan Plesac (Dennis Haysbert of 24 fame) and Rich Garces (Gary Cole) who is an acquaintance of Hanssen’s at the agency. Plesac asks if Eric is familiar with the case of Aldrich Ames (another famous U.S. traitor who worked for the CIA and was convicted of spying for the Russians). Eric says yes. Plesac tells him that he worked the Ames case and that Ames caused tremendous damage to the U.S. and got several U.S. intelligence personnel killed. He is angered to see this happen again in his own agency. Eric asks why they just don’t move on Hanssen and arrest him. Plesac tells him that they need to catch Hanssen in the act so they can pursue the death penalty. He tells Eric they need to have the death penalty on Hanssen so they can have leverage against him. They need Hanssen to talk and give up all his sources and everything he knows otherwise more lives and operations could be put in jeopardy. Kate then speaks to Eric in private. Eric is now almost abashed with himself for falling so heavily for Hanssen’s charms. He tells Kate "I’ve never read anyone as badly as him before, except maybe you". Kate tells Eric that Hanssen fooled everyone. She says for years the FBI knew they had a mole and they formed a special unit to try and deduce who the spy was. She says "Guess who we put as the head of the unit?". Eric realizes it was Hanssen. He now understasnds the full measure of just how calculating and clever Robert really is. He asks Kate how he is supposed to pull this off and "What if he is smarter than me?". She tells him that he is "smarter than all of us.". The two agree that the only way to expose Hanssen is to get at the one place he keeps all of his personal information. That is his private PDA, which Hanssen keeps tightly tucked in his briefcase. Somehow they must devise a plan to get Hanssen away from his briefcase long enough for Eric to download the files off the device.
We then see Eric with Hanssen in his office. He spills a pitcher of coffee on Hanssen’s desk and rug. Robert becomes angry but he has to attend a photo shoot for all of the agents. Its clear that Eric intentionally spilled the coffee though. He does this so he can remain in Robert’s office while he pretends to "clean up" while Robert goes to have his photo taken. On the way out Robert asks if Eric is feeling tense. Eric says yes and Robert tells him to "pray more". Robert goes to have his photo taken and the photographer is a very effeminate sort. Robert clearly despises this guy for his ways and finds the whole shoot very exasperating especially since the photographer seems to be procrastinating with how to take the picture. Of course he is doing this intentionally in order to stall Robert. Meanwhile Eric is downloading the files from Robert’s PDA. Back at the photo shoot Robert is at his wit’s end and decides he had had enough and storms off. However, Eric still isn’y anywhere near done with his download. So this is where Agent Garces steps in. He asks Robert to join him for some target practice at the shooting range to see if he is the "dead eye" everyone says he is. Robert agrees and this guys Eric more time. Eric finally finishes the download as Robert begins making his way back to the office. He puts everything back in its place but then Eric remember that Robert is a stickler with details and he rushes back into Hanssen’s office to rearrange the briefcase as he found it. However, as he is doing this Hanssen comes in the door. Realizing he must act fast Eric kneels next to Hanssen’s desk and begins praying. Hanssen sees this and is delighted as Eric tells him he took his advice. Eric has fooled Hanssen. However, as Eric sits back down at his part of the office Robert comes back out and asks him if Eric was in his briefcase. Eric says no, but Hanssen clearly seems dubious. Later he gives Eric a package he wants him to ship.
Eventually Hanssen gets back to special agent Kate but there are problems. While the PDA had a lot of information on it it was nothing incriminating enough to get Hanssen serious jail time like they need. Even worse they intercept a communication from who they believe is Hanssen to his Russian collaborators that suggests he is giving up spying and that he now might be able to slip away. Eric says he can get Hanssen.
Eric goes home and carefully opens the package Hanssen gave him. Inside is a tape which Eric plays. It’s a video of Hanssen having sex with his wife. Its clear that Hanssen taped this himself. Later Eric’s wife comes home and sees the same tape by accident. Juliana now realizes that Robert’s entire image as a virtuous individual is a facade. Eric sees her watching this and tells her he cannot explain to her what is going on. This greatly upsets her.
Eric then goes to visit Kate at her home. He sees the place looks like the residence of someone who lives a very secluded and solitary lifestyle. Kate is initially livid over the news that Eric opened the package that Robert gave him. She scolds O’Neill and asks him if he was sure that there were no traces of his tampering. Eric then comes back at her saying that he was never prepared for this and that all this lying has cost him personally. Kate says she is sorry and feels sympathy for his plight but cannot help him since she "doesn’t even own a cat". The two agree they need more evidence on Hanssen. They are going to try and get more from his car and personal belongings by searching them while Eric drives Robert to a meeting with a top security chief.
The next time we see Eric and Hanssen together the FBI makes a second attempt to gather more evidence while Eric is driving Hanssen to his destination. When Eric and Robert arrive the security chief is unavailable for their appointment and Robert becomes enraged considering this some sort of personal insult against him. Eric tries to calm Robert down but he leaves. Now Eric is driving Robert back to the FBI HQ, but he knows the FBI agents need more time to search Robert’s belongings. He gets into an argument with Robert about which route to take and doesn’t take the one Robert advises. When the two get stuck in a traffic jam (which Eric obviously planned for to stall for time) he apologizes to Robert, but Robert becomes even more irate and says he will just walk to his office since it would be faster. Eric realizes he cannot allow this as it would screw up the search. He jumps out of the car and begins yelling at Hanssen. He tells Robert that the reason he took this route is because he wanted to stop off at the religious book store that he and Robert previously visited to get some reading material for his wife, since he claims his newly reinvigorated religion is causing problems for him at home with his wife Juliana. He thought maybe if he got some new books for her it might convince Juliana to come over to his side. Eric says he was embarrassed to ask Robert for help and that is why he didn’t tell him. The whole thing is essentially a fallacy but Robert falls for it. He is genuinely touched by Eric’s appeals and motivations. He agrees to get back into the car with Eric and the FBI agents at the main HQ receive word they not have the time they need.
For the next few scenes the noose is tightening around Robert from all the evidence collected against him and he can feel it as he noticeably is becoming very paranoid. Although he has given O’Neill a good deal of trust up until now, he feels he may have let his guard down. He stops over at Eric’s house and picks him up telling him he needs to show Eric something. Eric agree to tag along. On the way the pager which agent Kate Burroughs gave him goes off again. By now this has happened a number of times in Robert’s presence. Robert clearly has a lot of antipathy towards Eric now and he now believes the pager calls are from someone Eric is working with. He drives Eric to a park at night which seems nearly bereft of any other people. Eric is clearly disconcerted by this. Hanssen begins telling Eric that he was always a great marksman and it’s a shame that Eric isn’t. He says in the FBI they have elite tests for marksman and then he pulls out his gun and begins firing off rounds very close to Eric. He tells Eric he needs to know if he can trust him or not. Eric responds by once again taking the initiative. He tells Hanssen that he has become a paranoid and belligerent person in his old age, thinking the whole world is out to get him and keep him down. He says the pager call is obviously from his wife who would be worried about him being gone so long by now. He continues to fulminate against Robert until he relents. Eric simply walks off and Hanssen takes him back to his home. Eric calls Kate and tells her to put a full surveillance tail on Robert as he will definitely make another intelligence drop to his Russian contacts very soon. Probably tomorrow. Kate agrees and Eric goes inside. Inside Eric;s home his wife Juliana is now terrified at him being gone so long. She is now longer angry at him. Just relieved to see him alive. The two hug and make up.
The next day we see Hanssen sitting in his car in a wooded area. He is clearly pensive and is contemplating his next course of action. Finally Hanssen gets out of his car and goes to his trunk. He gets out of a group of documents which we can see are classified. He takes them into the woods and places them under a small foot bridge. However, unbeknownst to Hanssen he is being watched. As Robert returns to his car we see a group of vans quickly pull up and FBI agents begin pouring out with guns all over the place. Robert seems almost unsurprised and tells them their guns wont be necessary. He comes peacefully and is taken into custody. In the van Robert is taken into is agent Plesac. He tells Robert that he worked the Aldrich Ames case and that it would be much more preferable for Robert to simply comply fully with the FBI. Robert hears Ames name and says it is not merely as simple as Plesac thinks. He tells Plesac that nobody really ever fully considered why Ames committed the treasonous actions he did He says that maybe Ames was trying to show us all how weak our security was by demonstrating how easily one could get away with treason. Plesac seems completely unconvinced by Hanssen’s words.
In the final scene we see O’Neill back inside Hanssen’s office. Eric is there with Kate. She tells him that he is owed a debt of deep gratitude for bringing down the man who may have been the worst spy in U.S. history. She also says that he can look forward to a long future in the bureau as a full fledged agent. However, Eric says he had enough of the FBI life. He wants to find something else to do with his life from now on. Kate asks him if this is because of the time he came over to her apartment and say her living alone. She says that most agents are married and that their wives just naturally adjust to the FBI lifestyle. However, Eric says he doesn’t want her to have to adjust. He takes his things and walks toward the elevator. There the doors open and we see inside is Hanssen in handcuffs flanked by agent Plesac and another agent. Robert clearly has a distraught and ignominious look on his face ashamed of all his actions. He looks up at Eric and says "Pray for me.". Eric sympathetically nods and replies "I will". The doors close.
FADE TO BLACK::
The movie ends with some text stating that Robert was eventually sentenced to life imprisonment in a Supermaxx Prison in Colorado where he spends 23 hours a day in solitary. Eric eventually quit the FBI and now practices law and lives happily with his wife.
*CUT TO THE CHASE*
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Ambitious FBI trainee Eric O’Neill (Ryan Philippe) makes agent when he catches Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper), the most egregious spy in American history. O’Neill walks away from it all, however, since the case put such a strain on his marriage. The final supertitles state that he’s now practicing law in the D.C. area while Hanssen is locked away forever.
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