Once movie spies were sleek and cool and impeccably dressed. They were devil-may-care, they had joie de vivre, they seemed to know everything, and they were unstoppable. The bad guys had endless money to spend on sociopathic sidekicks and elaborate contraptions. Most important, the bad guy/good guy lines were as clearly outlined as the crease in their perfectly pressed trousers.
But that was a long time ago. In Ridley Scott’s latest spy thriller everyone is tired, everyone is unsure, and everyone on both sides is morally compromised.
Back home in Washington, the CIA’s Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe with 30 extra pounds and a cell phone earpiece permanently in place) sees and hears everything through surveillance screens and computers. While top agent Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio) is dodging bombs and bullets, Hoffman calmly purrs directions. Ferris promises a frantic Arab linguist escape to America. Hoffman says no. The linguist is killed. On to the next scrimmage.
There is a brief, clumsy attempt to make a larger point here about America, but it does not help. The movie has the fungible quality of the kind of book you buy for an airplane trip and toss as soon as you arrive. Crowe’s weight gain has no purpose. It seems like a distracting stunt. DiCaprio is, as always, focused and diligent, but his character is all surface. That is convenient in a spy, who must be able to blend in seamlessly, but dull for the audience. That leaves us with some competently-staged action sequences and one electric performance that just provides further contrast with the uninspired tone of the rest of the film. British actor Mark Strong plays Hani, the local head of intelligence, with silky assurance. His expression as he talks to Ferris conveys more about what America does not know about the intricacies and persistence of Middle Eastern conflicts than all of the bluster and blow-ups of this forgettable film.