October 14, 2008 by
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This film is similar in technique to many other thriller/ espionage type films like the recent Eagle Eye, which is similar to the Jason Bourne films. The movie relies heavily on all seeing electronic surveillance with fast and severe cuts in time and place.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays Roger Ferris a “self described man on the ground” CIA agent stationed in Amman Jordan. Russell Crowe (Ed Hoffman) is his boss living in Washington and directing his every move by cell phone, computer, drone video and maybe a third eye.

Mark Strong is Hami Salaam the very “intelligent” Director of Jordanian Intelligence who allows no one to deceive him not even Ferris. Ferris is tasked with finding the elusive and clever Al-Saleem (Alon Aboutboul), an Islamic terrorist masterminding suicide bombings in Europe that are gnawing at the fabric of the Western alliance against Islamic Fundamentalism.

The Al-Saleem character is portrayed as an ego manic demon bent on destroying Western Civilization. The film might have been more potent if we heard him expound what motivates him and the suicide bombers. And we don’t want to hear it is some corrupt interpretation of the Koran or seventy six virgins. The mullahs and the young kids who sacrifice themselves may believe this, but the older, well educated, politically sophisticated operatives driving terrorism are seeking something else. Maybe power in their own countries and possible beyond. Spielberg made an effort to present the Palestinian point of view in Munich and if Scott had done the same here it would have made this a stronger film.

Suicide bombing, Islamic fundamentalism and Western incompetence, mainly by the higher ups in Washington seems to be a common theme running through thrillers these days. Syriana comes to mind. About the only pictures that seem to deal with Washington in a positive way were Iron Man a comic book movie and Charlie Wilson’s War, but that was a comedy about how one Congress man saved Afghanistan from the Russians. However then there was the blowback after the success of Wilson’s war when the bureaucrats pulled out and left the country to the Taliban. So the bureaucracy was dissed once again by a flick looking for an audience.

Ferris is forced to lie, cheat and sacrifice others in his quest for the wily Al Saleem. Along the way he falls in love with a beautiful Iranian born nurse (Golshifteh Farahani) who is taken hostage byAl-Saleem and for whom Ferris is willing to give up his life in exchange. This is a girl he just met. If all our CIA agents were so chivalrous there would be a lot of job openings. We must suspend our disbelief here, for a moment, that this hard bitten CIA agent who just ended a marriage badly will sacrifice his own life for an Iranian woman who gave him a few rabies shots.

Golshifteh Farahani

Russell Crowe plays Ed Hoffman the cynical, duplicitous CIA handler, the way he plays this character reminds me of his role in the Insider, who juggles the responsibilities of married life and multiple children in Washington with the job of calling the shots on Ferris’ quest. Ferris does Crowe’s bidding reluctantly most of the time and sometimes not at all as he is his own man too. He is also weary of risking his life, ruining his marriage and jeopardizing his new love life for what he wonders? Is Western Civilization appreciative of his sacrifices. The answer is yes he believes, for now anyway.

The movie is superbly directed. What else from Ridley Scott? He is the man who set the standard for Sci-Fi films with Aliens and then Blade Runner with its dystopian view of the future and a new form of slavery. William Monahan’s script is good but it could have been stronger, Mark Strong gives a strong performance and DiCaprio and Crowe are among the finest actors working today.

The film is great entertainment and there is never a dull moment. Therefore it is well worth seeing however it doesn’t deliver that punch to the gut or that shock to the psyche which would make it a must see movie that your mind will return to again and again as time passes. With all the fire power and money brought to bear on this film that could have been the case. But as Ridley once said “it is always the story Goddamn it.” However when you stock your film with clichés and don’t develop the characters and motivations of the evil ones then it is not the story but the director. Scott by now probably is a cynic or maybe a realist about the nature of the audience. Blade Runner was not a success when first released, but neither was Citizen Kane. Now both are considered classics. That is the reason to see a Ridley Scott movie or an Orson Welles movie when he was alive. You never know what is coming.



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