Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe star as spy and spymaster respectively in this over-complicated, fast-moving tale of CIA operations in Jordan and the Middle East by Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, American Gangster, Black Hawk Down). Rushed into production after the unexpected success of American Gangster, Scott is always hugely businesslike and methodical in the way he goes about making movies, and this one was no exception, impressing Leonardo DiCaprio with his organizational skills. But as a director he’s made as many bad movies as good ones; sometimes being organised just isn’t enough.
DiCaprio evokes echoes of his (rather better) performance in Blood Diamond, a movie he did directly before this one. He’s convincing as the on-the-ground Arabist perpetually frustrated at the way his remote bosses back in Washington don’t understand or don’t care about what’s happening on the ground. Filling these rather large and squashed loafers, looking as overweight and bloated as he’s ever been, directing Leo from afar with a hugely sophisticated electronic surveillance system, is Russell Crowe, phoning in one his laziest performances to date. There’s a hugely contrived romantic link too with Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani (who has had some grief in her native country for appearing in this movie), who plays a nurse in Jordan for whom Leo falls.
Essentially the plot follows CIA spook Roger Ferris (DiCaprio) as he uncovers a safe-house in Jordan which he is convinced will lead him to the most-wanted terrorist in this particular deck of cards, Al-Saleem. The only way he can flush him out is to pose as a rival terrorist and wait for the man to get in touch. Much of the action is gritty and visceral, recalling Black Hawk Down with its myriad of helicopter shots and sense of heat, danger and dust. But acting kudos goes mostly to Mark Strong as the Jordanian chief of intelligence Hani; he proves more than a match for DiCaprio is some key scenes.
Based on David Ignatius 2007 novel, which is supposed to be very well researched, Ridley clearly aims to get as much to the on-the-ground truth of things. The DiCaprio torture scene is graphic. This is not for the feint-hearted, but it also refuses to be dumb lock ‘n load entertainment. On a big screen in a big cinema it looks and sounds fantastic (Scott’s sound design is always immaculate) but it does lose its way somewhat with too many characters and too many strands of the storyline. This is not a feelgood movie, and consequently an ambiguous choice for a Saturday night out.