Leonardo DiCaprio is a CIA agent working in the Middle East. He’s brilliant and talented, and apparently the only person making any progress in the war on terror. Crowe seems to be in charge of all CIA operations relating to global terrorism. (I can see why Scott wanted him to not look physically fit for this role, but I don’t think he should’ve made the poor guy gain so much extra weight - I think 20 pounds would’ve made the point as well as the 50 he had to put on.) He is completely amoral, willing to do whatever it takes to win. It’s not clear what winning entails, but as far as I could tell, the plan seems to be to keep beating down the terrorists until the Middle East runs out of oil money to keep them going.
A new player, Al-Saleem, has begun terrorist attacks in Europe (why did he have to pick on poor Amsterdam?!), and has threatened to bring them to America next. Leo’s job is to try to track him down and/or stop the attacks. The film is a series of convoluted operations spying on/attacking terrorists and their safe houses throughout the Middle East.
A lot of the action takes place in Amman, Jordan. Leo enlists the head of Jordanian covert ops, Hani Salaam (played by Mark Strong - a serious hottie who reminded me of a young Andy Garcia; I will definitely keep an eye out for him in the future). Hani is only willing to help Leo if he plays by his rules. Leo is fine with that, but Crowe won’t compromise his own agenda or authority, so Leo has to balance his trust and loyalty between the two. And of course, between what they represent - America and the Middle East (the differences between the many Middle Eastern countries are negligible in the movie, so it has a regional identity rather than any national one).
There are plans, there are counter-plans, there are lies and betrayals, people get tortured, people get killed, things blow up (it is a Ridley Scott film, after all). Along the way, Leo falls for a beautiful Iranian nurse (Farahani) who gives him rabies shots. (Dog bites are just one of a multitude of injuries Leo suffers along the way.) Halfway through my friend asked me “Does this movie have a plot?” My response: “No.” The situations in the movie are all meant to illustrate the theme - war is hell, and there are no good guys. Even though it’s obviously set amid current events, it felt more like a theoretical dramatic exercise rather than something that would actually be taking place.
This is an action-filled movie, and despite my first sentence, you do have to pay close attention to follow what’s going on. It was about 15 minutes too long, but for the most part it was fast-paced and held my interest. After a summer filled with, in my opinion, a lot of really good-quality action films, it was a little jarring to see one with such a serious tone. Overall I’d say it’s a good entry in the action/war/spy genre. (Warning, it deserves the R-rating for many scenes of violence and torture.) On the DN scale, I’d pay $5-6 to see it.