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Master Spy: Robert Hanssen Story

20 customer reviews

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(May 20, 2003)
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

The very subject of spying provokes a perverse response: part revulsion, part riveted fascination. So does this spellbinding docu-drama about the tortured life led and lies told by Robert Hanssen, the FBI special agent who sold secret government documents to KGB officers. Literary legend Norman Mailer wrote a highly literate script for the all-star cast (including William Hurt, Ron Silver and Peter Boyle) that brings Hanssen, his colleagues and family members convincingly to life. Shot on location in Moscow, Hong Kong, Hawaii and Washington, DC, all adding authenticity to this disturbing account. 3 hours 20 min. on 1 DVD.

Here's a different kind of spy: awkward, frosty, supremely intelligent, deeply religious. As brilliantly acted by a perfectly cast William Hurt, this is Robert Hanssen, a respected FBI man who sold information to the Soviets for 20 years. In Norman Mailer's incisive script for this TV movie, Hanssen turns to spying for his own neurotic reasons: to out-earn his domineering father, to show up the FBI bosses who continually pass him over, and maybe to dispel the boredom of the arrogant. A kinky interest in voyeurism and a platonic friendship with a stripper are also part of the mix (which brings in nudity not part of the broadcast version). The stripper is played by the touching Hilit Pace, while Mary Louise Parker is fine as Hanssen's clueless wife. Production values are TV-utilitarian, but Mailer's keen psychological probing and Hurt's unwavering chilliness make Master Spy an absorbing experience. --Robert Horton

Special Features

  • 7 deleted scenes with optional director's commentary
  • Behind-the-scenes featurette

Product Details

  • Actors: William Hurt, Mary-Louise Parker, David Strathairn, Ron Silver, Hilit Pace
  • Directors: Lawrence Schiller
  • Writers: Norman Mailer
  • Producers: Lawrence Schiller, Chris Danton, Kay Hoffman, Norman Mailer
  • Format: Closed-captioned, Color, Full Screen, Subtitled, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround)
  • Subtitles: English, Spanish
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: R (Restricted)
  • Studio: 20th Century Fox
  • DVD Release Date: May 20, 2003
  • Run Time: 200 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00008K7AU
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #84,537 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Master Spy: Robert Hanssen Story" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By S. S. Yao on July 27, 2004
Format: DVD
This is one of the best real-life story adapted movie I've seen. William Hurt is amazing in portraying the enigmatic Hanssen. His performance saved this film from its lack of depth and exciting plots beneath the obvious. Hanssen's motivation for his betrayals to everyone he loves is never elaborated, despite all the internal dialogues and rationalization. Though awkward at socialing and eerie in outlook, highly intelligent Hanssen made his moves with intention and calculation to understand struggling souls like himself under surreal yet intriguing circumstances. Studying his best friend, a strip dancer and intelligence officers from both camps, in depth and in person, must have given him great joy and revelation on himself, a modern-day Faust trying to figure out meanings of his own bewildering existence while finding a way to salvation. Writer Mailer and Director Schiller had obvious done their homework and interviewed key people related to Hanssen which gave certain degree of reality to the scrip. But I still feel somewhat disappointed about the fragmented profile they demonstrated via this movie. Maybe Norman Mailer is just getting old and therefore relies too much on his insights while ignoring the relevant details which would have enriched the story so much more.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Thriller fan on December 3, 2008
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
This is a good companion DVD to "Breach." Whereas "Breach" focuses on how Hanssen was caught, "Master Spy" shows exactly what Hanssen did and suggests some of the reasons why he may have done it.(Unlike "Breach," "Master Spy" was made with the cooperation of some of Hanssen's family members.)The acting is uniformly good and the story gives viewers some interesting insights into Hanssen's possible motivations.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By David Blackburst on July 30, 2008
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
Director Lawrence Schiller has a definite style to his films: true-life stories (like the JFK assassination and the O.J. case) with a no-nonsense re-telling of the story as he understands it. Master Spy is in that mold. Robert Phillip Hanssen is presented as an FBI official struggling to have his intellect recognized, and he succumbs to the lure of espionage for the Soviets. For Hanssen, it was partly for money; but more important, he wanted to be the cleverest spy ever. Knowing that others before him (like CIA's Aldrich Hazen Ames) had been caught when Soviet intelligence officers defected to the US or became "agents-in-place," Hanssen decided to never let them know his real identity. (He may have slipped-up and been IDed when he called the KGB from a phone booth they were watching.) He started feeding them fairly low-level stuff, but soon graduated to feeding them everything he could get his hands on. Beyond betraying many Soviets who were working for Western intelligence, he betrayed a secret FBI tunnel under the new Soviet Embassy in Washington.

The film is good in showing Hanssen's actions, but weak in showing his motivations. Another annoying point: One of the most interesting aspects of the case is how he was caught: Knowing the evidence showed there was a mole in US intelligence, the FBI (and later CIA) "leaked" to both current and former KGB/SVR officers that they were willing to pay handsomely for the identity of "Ramon," Hanssen's chosen code name. Sure enough, a post-KGB officer took the bait and turned over the entire KGB file on Ramon. The first gem it contained was a recording of the fatal phone call, and FBI officers realized in horror that it was their colleague.
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The actors were quite good in their roles (although Bonnie's character was a bit overboard on tantrums). The movie is quite watchable despite the gratuitous director & writer.

As others stated, it is a good companion movie for Breach. There are multiple glaring problems with the direction & writing which I'll describe below but the performance of the actors far outweighs those negative aspects & is still a good movie, albeit, missing critical detail.

If you watch the director's bragging in the extra special features, you will discover he wasted enormous funds on giving himself & his writer paid, tax deductible pleasure trips to Russia, Hong Kong, DC, Hawaii, Canada, NY, Chicago, etc., from which the audience didn't benefit. From the scenes, it could have been filmed in any hotel room or office with a superimposed photo or video plate in the background. Too many directors are wasting production money on free, tax deductible trips & other toys using a movie as their excuse. Yet the audience does not benefit. We see the interior of a hotel room with some recognizable background that easily could have been superimposed. Or a quick view of the Kremlin or some street in Hong Kong that could have been substituted by any stock footages or filmed by one camera person as a background or fill scene rather than paying a full crew for each locale based on the meager scenes we saw.

It was clearly a case of self gratification for the director & writer as was their gaining access to the bowels of the FBI HQ, Russia's Politico & prison; the latter 2 of which could have been filmed anywhere from what little we saw.
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