Saturday, August 28, 2010

Hollywood's Breach

The other evening, the Knight and I watched “Breach,” a 2007 movie which I had wanted to see for quite a long time. The movie is based on the true story of Robert Hanssen, an FBI agent, convicted of spying for the Soviet Union / Russia for more than two decades.

Alas, the movie lacked 3 key elements which the Knight especially enjoys in movies: lots of stuff blowing up, lots of car chases, and lots of people getting the tar kicked out of them. You know, gratuitous special effects violence. (LOL) Nevertheless, even with none of that, the two-hour production was nerve-wrackingly tense. We knew from the first few minutes of the movie what the outcome was going to be, but it was still tense.

My interpretation of the film was that it was an interesting study of pride and anger. Agent Hanssen was angry because he felt that his keen intelligence and brillant work were neither sufficiently recognized nor justly rewarded by the FBI. As a consequence, he sold out to the Russians for big bucks as his way of punishing the FBI for dissing him. Ultimately, his pride and anger became a self-destruct-mechanism—first, it slowly pulled him apart as he lived two different lives, and then it triggered his final traitorous act which resulted in his arrest and imprisonment. It was a sad, cautionary tale about pride and anger.

Hollywood, however, was not satisfied with a psychological portrait of Robert Hanssen the traitor along with a chronicle of the careful work done by the FBI to nail the guy. The screenplay writers and the director decided that they needed to spice up the story for the big screen by adding a few fictitious elements, namely, “sexual perversions” and religious hypocrisy or fanaticism (Catholic). And, Hollywood style, they also felt the need to make political commentary. Several major scenes were entirely fictional, as listed in Wikipedia:

• The real O'Neill knew going in that Hanssen was the subject of a counterintelligence investigation. There was no cover story about sexual perversions, and no dramatic meeting where O'Neill learned the truth.

• There was no extensive contact outside the office between O'Neill and Hanssen as portrayed in the film (the O'Neills visiting the Hanssens, the Hanssens dropping by O'Neill's apartment). However, Hanssen did take O'Neill to church.

• The scene where Hanssen takes O'Neill out into the woods and drunkenly fires his pistol is fictional.

• Unlike in the movie, O'Neill never saw Hanssen after the arrest.

In my opinion, all of the scenes depicting sexual and religious “deviancy” were distasteful and added nothing of value to the movie. On the contrary: these scenes detracted from the story and its presentation, and distorted the truth. These scenes could have been deleted and some more accurate parts added, along with some terrific acting, to result in a more powerful story. Truth need not be fictionalized to make it compelling. Resorting to cheap sensationalism and an appeal to anti-religion sentiments were unnecessary.

As the distasteful and repulsive scenes transpired, it was as if obnoxious commercials were interrupting the story. During those scenes I began thinking about the writers and the director, and the ax they were obviously grinding, as well as their cynical opinions of American movie-goers. They obviously did not want anyone to leave the theater with any feelings of respect for the FBI, since the movie included scenes that belittled the FBI, in general, and suggested that the FBI itself could be blamed for Hanssen’s actions. Hollywood apparently also believes that religiously-minded people are dangerous or mentally unstable—they definitely are not “normal.”

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