In Ridley Scott’s war on terror thriller, Leonardo DiCaprio plays a CIA agent who infiltrates terrorist cells in the Middle East while his bureaucratic superior (Russell Crowe) assists him stateside, attending his kid’s soccer games as his young operative is putting his life on the line. This cutting detail—the politicians enjoy their cushy lifestyle while the real heroes are in harm’s way—is as political as the film gets. Like DiCaprio’s Blood Diamond, this is a slick Hollywood thriller that uses immediate, deadly serious world issues as fodder for mass entertainment. This is not one of Scott’s best films but, for the most part, it’s at least highly entertaining.
Despite the urgency of the subject matter, there’s a lot of familiar movie moments, like the scene where info off a computer is downloaded quickly (while the PC’s owner is about to walk in the room); or when the “cavalry” saves the hero at just the right moment; or the love interest you can spot from the moment she first walks on screen. The movie is sometimes overly self-righteous—there’s a scene, late in the movie, with dialogue right out of a Toby Keith song, where DiCaprio gives Al Qaeda a verbal tongue-lashing and even spits in the head terrorist’s face. Go U.S.A.! It’s all very crowd pleasing, if a little Hollywood phony.
The opening moments feel as though we’re in the middle of the story, as there are no establishing scenes of the characters and we’re in the action immediately. Likewise, the film ends on an open-ended note, which is fitting for the material but won’t please everyone. But after the establishing satellite spy views and ample explosions, the film grabs hold of you. DiCaprio gives a showy, hardworking performance and comes off like the new Jack Ryan, while Crowe is amusingly hammy and has a great opening monologue; their scenes together are fun to watch.
There are stand out set pieces, like a remarkably staged land and air desert chase, a funny family dinner date (a nice diversion from the violence) and the brutal, incredibly tense climax. It’s as good as The Kingdom but doesn’t cut as deep as Traitor. MTW