Political Film Society - Newsletter #273 - March 1, 2007

March 1, 2007


At a Board of Directors meeting, ballots from members selected the following winners for 2006:

Best Film on Democracy: Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (directed by Marc Rothemund)

Best Film Exposé: Mountain Patrol (Kekexili) (directed by Chuan Lu)

Best Film on Human Rights: The Last King of Scotland (directed by Kevin Macdonald)

Best Film on Peace: Joyeux Noël (directed by Christian Carion).

An interesting fact is that, for the first time, none of the awardwinning directors is American.

BreachDirected by Political Film Society awardwinner Billy Ray, Breach is based on several biographical accounts of the life of FBI agent Robert Hanssen (played by Chris Cooper), who was apprehended on February 18, 2001. The movie begins with the announcement of Hanssen’s arrest by former Attorney General John Ashcroft. The next scene is captioned “Two months earlier,” when FBI trainee Eric O’Neill (played by Ryan Philippe) is assigned to work under Hanssen in a new unit set up to increase security at the FBI. However, Hanssen is scheduled for retirement in two months at the mandatory age of 57; he surely knew that he was being recalled from his former position so that the FBI could watch him more closely. Indeed, his office is next to one set up to find an intelligence mole, though initially the FBI has its sights on a CIA agent.

Hanssen informs O’Neill that the FBI would never consider one of their own to be a spy for the Russians, indeed that the FBI looked down upon the CIA as wimps and disdained cooperation with the CIA. Within the FBI, similarly, those who used guns and made arrests had a much higher status than those engaging in intelligence. For some twenty-two years, while Hanssen was the FBI’s top agent gathering intelligence about the Russians, someone kept leaking information about sensitive national security secrets, including the identity of CIA and FBI agents. O’Neill’s first FBI assignment as a subordinate to Hanssen is to report on the latter’s daily activities, however insignificant; his initial clue about Hanssen’s possible misconduct is a suggestion from his boss, Kate Burroughs (played by Laura Linney), that he is a heterosexual pervert. From the first day on the job, Hanssen berates O’Neill, who ultimately wants off the case until Burroughs explains that Hansen is a traitor who has caused billions of dollars of damage and has cost the lives of perhaps fifty American spies. O’Neill, meanwhile, plays dumb, thereby inviting Hanssen to mentor him. O’Neill’s specific tasks are to download from Hanssen’s hand-held computer, to delay him in traffic so that his automobile can be thoroughly searched, and to predict when Hanssen will make a final drop of information. The outcome of the film is never in doubt, so Breach is about process. Titles at the end indicate that Hanssen is now in solitary confinement within a maximum security prison in Colorado, and that O’Neill resigned from the FBI in May 2001 to become an attorney. Breach seeks to answer why Hansen was a traitor, but the clue about a childhood with a strict father is overwhelmed by Hansen’s frustration that he was a second class FBI agent, never given an office with a window, because he did not use a weapon to apprehend criminals. His biographers, however, are baffled, especially since Hanssen is aware that he will remain in maximum security confinement until he identifies which security leaks were his. The Political Film Society has nominated Breach as best film exposé of 2007 for bringing to light facts about the most dangerous spy in American history and defects in the agency culture of the FBI. MH