Some kinds of perversity are so bizarre that one despairs of ever understanding them. The mental state of Robert Hanssen, who for more than twenty years spied for the Soviet Union and then for Russia while productively employed as a counterintelligence analyst for the F.B.I., may be one such case. Hanssen, who was arrested in February, 2001, and was sentenced to life imprisonment in May, 2002, was not a rebel with a romantic attachment to Communism, like the British double agents Kim Philby, Guy Burgess, and Donald Maclean. On the contrary, Hanssen appears to have despised Communism and to have loved this country, though the information he gave the Russians sent Soviet agents who were working for the United States to their death. He took money—perhaps as much as one million four hundred thousand dollars in cash and diamonds—but piling up treasure seems not to have been his primary motivation, either. At one point, Hanssen implored the K.G.B. not to give him large sums of cash, since such deposits might have attracted the notice of federal drug-enforcement agents. Much of the money, as it turns out, was put into a Russian account, and he wasn’t able to spend it. Hanssen lived in suburban Virginia, was married, and had six children; he was a devout Catholic who went to Mass every week, sometimes every day. At the same time, he posted his sexual fantasies on the Internet and took his favorite stripper to Hong Kong; he also installed a hidden camera in his bedroom so that a male friend could watch him and his wife making love. “I contain multitudes,” Whitman said, but this is ridiculous.
At the beginning of “Breach,” a sombre thriller about the downfall of this strange man, a young and ambitious F.B.I. employee, Eric O’Neill (Ryan Phillippe), is assigned to be an assistant to Hanssen (Chris Cooper). O’Neill’s superior, Special Agent Burroughs (a buttoned-up Laura Linney), informs him of Hanssen’s sexual obsessions but of nothing else. His instructions are to watch his new boss and report back everything he says and does. O’Neill, somewhat puzzled by the assignment, becomes Hanssen’s clerk, secretary, and driver, and Hanssen tests and bullies him, complaining of his tepid religious beliefs. Ryan Phillippe, looking serious in dark hair, purses his lips and frowns, and does a decent enough job with O’Neill, an intelligent and strong-willed young man who is almost as tightly controlled as Hanssen. But, initially, Chris Cooper’s performance is the center of interest in the movie. As Hanssen, he is formidable, saturnine, humorless—a pious sadist who likes to put people on the spot. Cooper has a leathery and menacing voice, and he’s almost too forbidding here. This Hanssen is such a beetle-browed naysayer, dispensing religious bromides in his black suits, that he comes off as ludicrous—something out of a horror movie. Cooper does give Hanssen a streak of intellectual vanity, which may be the key to the double agent’s character, but one wants him to open up the man a bit more—to give him a touch of glee, perhaps. If Hanssen didn’t betray people for kicks, what did he do it for?
O’Neill finds out from his superiors that Hanssen is a mole, and, at the same time, Hanssen begins to suspect his eager assistant of spying on him. “Breach,” written by Adam Mazer, William Rotko, and Billy Ray, and directed by Ray, was made in consultation with the real O’Neill, and one imagines that the movie sticks fairly close to what actually happened. Only poor dumb life could be as undramatic as this. A large part of the film consists of the two men stealthily moving in and out of locked offices—they wear out a ring of keys just opening doors. They drive around a lot, too, and have cheerless meals with their wives. Most of our thrillers are hyped up; this one is grayed out. Tak Fujimoto shot it in subdued light, mostly in dour institutional corridors. Yet the unexciting look and feel of the movie wouldn’t have bothered me if the filmmakers had penetrated Hanssen’s skull a little. We can see that he believes he wasn’t taken seriously enough by the F.B.I., and we can guess that he wanted to show his colleagues that he was better at spying than any of them. Partly for his own safety, and partly, perhaps, because he loved managing everything in his life, he kept his identity secret from his Russian handlers. Hanssen must have relished the sheer pleasure of violation and control. But how does this temperamental quirk link up with his religious obsessions? In the movie, we see him confessing to his priest again and again. But what, exactly, did he confess?
Edie Sedgwick, the leggy sixties heiress who became a Vogue “youthquaker” and Warhol superstar, and died of an overdose at twenty-eight, has inspired a kind of whirling, pocket bio-pic, “Factory Girl,” in which the heroine (Sienna Miller) burns brightly and then snuffs herself out. It’s a peculiar movie, frantic and useless, with a hyperactive camera that gives us no more than fleeting impressions of Edie ecstatic at parties, Edie strung out on drugs, Edie lying mostly naked on a bed, with her skin splotchy from injections. Whatever shrewdness or charm Sedgwick possessed that caused people to believe that she was a revolutionary figure in New York night life, it doesn’t come through in this movie, though Sienna Miller, who laughs, fidgets, and acts up a storm of desperate anxiety, tries hard to bring the girl to life. The busy but inexpressive screenplay by Captain Mauzner—George Hickenlooper directed—starts off with Edie as an excitable, shallow ingénue at art school and launches her into Manhattan, where, in 1965, she has an epochal meeting with Andy Warhol (Guy Pearce) at a party. She’s awed by the Pop artist-manufacturer, and Warhol, in need of a new superstar for his movies, is impressed by her beauty and classy provenance (the Sedgwicks of New England went way back, whereas the Warhol crew had arrived the day before from Pittsburgh and the Bronx). The actual Edie was a stick, not much more substantial than Twiggy (though sexier), with haunted, kohl-shadowed peepers and a hanging lower lip that made her look like a frightened animal. Miller is more beautiful than Sedgwick but less memorable—a pretty girl who is expertly made up to look seedy and exhausted.
Big, crazy parties were the quintessential New York event in the sixties, just as real-estate closings are now, and, at times, life in the Factory was an endless, desultory bash. Hickenlooper gets the atmosphere of apocalyptic listlessness right—the silver-foil walls, the overstuffed thrift-shop furniture, the people sitting around, some naked, some shooting up, with Warhol making himself available for an instant to anyone outrageous enough to grab his attention. David Bowie played Warhol in “Basquiat,” and Jared Harris did it in “I Shot Andy Warhol,” but, for whatever it’s worth, Guy Pearce is the best Andy yet. He’s taller and stronger than Warhol, but he has the appropriate interior slump, the ineffable malign vagueness, the oddly mesmerizing voice that turns every statement into a question. What’s hard to understand is how this torpid fellow could possibly have produced the numerous paintings, silk screens, and other art that got made in the Factory (the actual Warhol was ambitious and calculating and, in this period, hugely industrious). “Factory Girl” does, however, re-create the insolent slovenliness of the group’s moviemaking operation—Warhol idly turning on the camera as Edie squirms uncomfortably on a bed with some handsome boy, or as members of the Warhol gang have lewd encounters with a horse. The Warhol movies never attempted to represent anything; they recorded whatever a camera in the Factory could take in—for the most part, limp burlesques of Hollywood genres and star poses. When the actors became famous, the joke was complete.
The movies made at the Factory erased the distinction between artist and voyeur, creator and hanger-on. Parasitism that would have seemed sad anywhere else blossomed into flamboyant celebrity. Where did Edie fit in? This movie records what she got from Warhol—star status in the art world and appearances in Vogue and the gossip columns—but not what he got from her. According to the oral testimony gathered by Jean Stein (and edited with George Plimpton) in “Edie: American Girl,” first published in 1982 and still the best book on the scene, she introduced him to wealthy and socially prominent people he wouldn’t have approached on his own. The actual Edie, who knew how to draw on the prerogatives of the rich—i.e., how to shop with overdrawn credit—was a more sophisticated and dominating presence than the lost girl in the movie, who seems almost entirely a victim of Warhol’s flickering interests (when he no longer needs her, he discards her). At the beginning of the movie, she announces that she’s going to die young, and Mauzner and Hickenlooper never allow us, even for a second, to imagine that anything else could have happened to her. “Factory Girl” comes off as a piece of sensationalist fatalism: the spectacle of dying is meant to be its appeal. We’re left with the impression that the movie got made because Edie Sedgwick is still just barely notorious enough to be exploited one more time.