When you lie all the time, how do you remember what is true? How do you remember to care?
That is a theme of most spy movies, and it is right at the center of this twisty story about a grad student from MIT who is recruited for the CIA, put through a brutal training period, and then sent out to find a mole, someone from the inside who is working for the bad guys.
In what used to be the Tom Cruise part (supremely talented but hot-headed kid with father issues), we have Cruise’s co-star in “Minority Report,” the supremely talented and magnetic Irish actor Colin Farrell. His Obi-Wan Kenobi equivalent is grizzled veteran Burke (Al Pacino), who has mastered the art of identifying the right candidates and enticing them to join up, even though there is no chance of money or recognition. You might win a medal, but they just show it to you and take it back — you aren’t even allowed to keep it.
Burke tells James Clayton (Farrell), Layla Moore (Bridget Moynahan), and the other recruits that everything is a test; nothing is as it seems. CIA training facility (called The Farm) is like boot camp crossed with “Fear Factor.” They learn not to believe anything or anyone. They learn to lie without quickening their pulses or dilating their pupils. And they learn that nothing matters — no feelings, no friendships — except for completing the mission.
The other students are told that Clayton was dropped, so that Burke can use him undercover to find which one of them is working for the other side. Is it Layla?
It’s a “Top Gun”-style part, and Farrell has everything it takes to be a huge star, but it is unlikely that this movie will make it happen for him. There are some supple plot twists, but the story sags in the middle, there aren’t any gee-whiz gadgets, and the preview gives too much away. It’s an above-average thriller, but not especially memorable.
Parents should know that the movie has strong language and sexual references and situations, some exploitive (intended to get access to secrets). Characters smoke and drink, sometimes to excess, especially after receiving bad news. There is a lot of peril and violence, including torture that is graphic for a PG-13. Characters are killed.
Families who see this movie should talk about the classic conflict we confront when we allow the ends to justify the means. How do we create an organization of liars and keep them honest? Would you like to be a spy?
Families who enjoy this movie should watch the brilliant BBC miniseries, “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” inspired by the real-life British mole Kim Philby.