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Fox Home Entertainment (DVD), ASIN B00008K7AU

As a sly double agent, William Hurt creates a portrait as dangerous as any foul-smelling cloven-footed demon's. This convicted traitor wrings our hearts from our first stunned exposure to his family. His father (Peter Boyle) continually humiliates his accomplished son while his wife, Bonnie (Mary-Louise Parker), insists on dictating his personal mail. Can a grown man not manage his own conflict with Deadly Dad? This double victim must even write a Dear John letter, following his wife's orders. The secrets that this FBI special agent protects leave him no safe quarter.

dvd: master spy Given a life of illusion -- he poses as head of a perfect family -- espionage would seem to be his cup of Earl Grey tea. Hurt carries off the part with an aristocratic bearing. Ramrod straight, he seems to be posing for his official photograph. His stride includes a touch of lurching, just right for a guy who stepped out of a coat of armor, perhaps. Any accusation against him brings outright pain to his nobility. Yet who carried top-secret U.S. files to Soviet drop sites? Who decimated America's national security? The film challenges our patriotism, luring us to forgive a man who surrendered our spies behind the Iron Curtain.

We could not like his father if our lives depended on our charity. Boyle play-acts an ancient charlatan. He purchases embarrassing, intimate gifts for his daughter-in-law. He grabs his grandchildren's affection by equally costly contributions to their superficiality. His deathbed confession that he rigged his son's driving tests -- three times! -- tempts us to pull the plug on his life-support system. Yet (think carefully) does parental monstrosity cancel the villainy of his distinguished heir? This marvelous actor cackles and confesses with equal facility.

Bonnie Hanssen maintains a family tradition of dual identities. How many mothers of six good Catholic children serve as pin-up girls in their husband's pornography? How many take their treacherous spouses to the family priest to resolve a question of diabolical politics? If her naivete were not completely genuine, it would be patently absurd. Parker hits just the right note, confessing to her favorite clergyman that her attraction to Mr. Traitor never ends. Once again, these remarks surprise an audience whose moral barometer cannot register her notion of loyalty. Does she think she must cheerlead all the way to prison?

For mystery fans, this convoluted web of deceit continuously expands into alternative genres. The bare bones "Affadavit in Support of Criminal Complaint, Arrest Warrant [for Hanssen] and Search Warrants" stands ready online at the Federation of American Scientists.

While Normal Mailer penned the screenplay and Lawrence Schiller directed this movie, the latter also authored The Life of Master Spy Robert P. Hanssen: Based upon an Investigation by Norman Mailer and Lawrence Schiller. The excerpt from this book, available at Amazon also offers tantalizing material. There, the mother of Robert Hanssen declares: "He has always been very honest and upright." This contention completes a family tragedy where mother shields while father attacks their child. Should it appear above the gate to hell too?

Meg Curtis

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