Let’s be honest: he’s 34 now and he still looks like a kid. When it comes to ‘grown-up’ roles, it’s tempting to see DiCaprio as the lost brother of Frank Abagnale Jr: a high-school con artist who uses charisma, good-looks and brass ballsto pull off implausible impersonations while cashing in millions of dollars.
Sometimes a mad Hollywood producer. Sometimes an African ex-mercenary smuggler. And now? A CIA operative sent to Jordan to smoke out a terrorist leader who’s igniting a campaign of global bombings. DiCaprio speaks perfect Arabic. He blends effortlessly into the blitzed streets of Iraq. Naturally, he has a beard.
But that snarling performance in The Departed was a warning shot: Leo is coming of age. With every minute that passes in Ridley Scott’s talky political thriller, DiCaprio swells to fit the role, forced to bring his A-game by two heavyweight co-stars.
Waging the war against terror from a laptop in the suburbs, doughy CIA boss Russell Crowe lazily traces his young agent using eye-in the-sky surveillance and a plug-in earpiece like a modern-times Agent Smith. Crowe’s coasting here, acting down the phone until a brusque, amusing meeting with DiCaprio knocks him literally sideways.
Way tastier is RockNRolla star Mark Strong, burning with dangerous screen presence as the shady Jordanian intelligence chief matching wits with DiCaprio. It’s a star-sculpting turn from the Londoner, who you might remember crudely manicuring George Clooney in Syriana.
That film is the template here for William Monahan’s script, his second with Scott (Kingdom Of Heaven) and DiCaprio (The Departed): a dense, complex political thriller that exposes uncertain hard truths. But as he hops from Manchester to Iraq to Langley to Jordan to Amsterdam, Monahan’s script is overloaded and undercooked, leaning heavily on DiCaprio and Strong for propulsion.
That is, until Ridley Scott’s masterful set-piece action erupts. Sure, Scott makes movies not films, but jolted by these concussive interludes the story finally slips into gear for a gripping final 30 minutes. Brace for the nastiest finger-torture in Scott’s oeuvre since Blade Runner. It’s not for kids.
Syriana, this ain’t. Ridley Scott’s latest misses the scope, texture or depth to dig into the moral mess of the war on terror. But this entertaining techno-thriller feeds greedily off star performances from Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Strong.
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