DVD Release Date:  February 17, 2009
Theatrical Release Date:  October 10, 2008
Rating:  R (for strong violence including some torture, and for language throughout)
Genre:  Action, Drama, Thriller
Run Time:  128 min.
Director:  Ridley Scott
Actors:  Russell Crowe, Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Strong, Golshifteh Farahani, Alon Abutbul, Ali Suliman, Kais Nashif

Ridley Scott has directed numerous classic films—Gladiator, Alien, Blade Runner and Black Hawk Down—but his cinematic track record is far from spotless. Scott can deliver bloated misfires as easily as he can a powerhouse Oscar contender. Remember Legend with Tom Cruise, or recent duds like A Good Year?

His career as a director has spanned decades, but unlike many of his colleagues, who work less frequently as they age, Scott’s output has ticked up in his twilight years. His new film, Body of Lies, is his fourth in four years, and his eighth since the turn of the century.

Last year’s Scott-helmed American Gangster generated heavy awards buzz upon its release, but the buzz faded, leaving the film unrecognized in most of the major Oscar categories. Could it be that the 70-year-old director is still looking for the right project to win him an elusive Best Director statue? (Scott was nominated in that category the year Gladiator won Best Picture, but watched as the directing Oscar went to Steven Soderbergh for Traffic.)

Now comes Body of Lies starring Oscar winner Russell Crowe and multiple Oscar nominee Leonardo DiCaprio in a CIA drama about the United States’ involvement in the Middle East. It is not up to Scott’s best work, but the performances—especially from DiCaprio—are strong, and the result is a film that seriously examines U.S. foreign policy while still managing to entertain. It’s not heavy-handed; its point about the extent and purpose of U.S. power provokes consideration rather than the alienation that has greeted so many of the Iraq War-themed movies in the past few years.

Adapted by William Monahan (The Departed) from a novel by David Ignatius, Body of Lies begins with a promise by Al-Saleem, a terrorist leader, to carry out a campaign of bloodshed in the West. We then hear the two CIA operatives, Ed Hoffman (Crowe) and Roger Ferris (DiCaprio), give voice to differing views about the U.S. pursuit of terrorists. “A long war will only make your enemy grow stronger,” says Ferris, who moves from one Middle East country to the next, cultivating sources to infiltrate the terrorist cell behind the campaign. Back in the United States, Hoffman tells others that the Islamic fighters “do not want to negotiate. They want the universal caliphate established.” He warns that “our world as we know it is a lot easier to put to an end than you think.”

Hoffman is a family man who’s never disconnected from his work. He makes momentous decisions while watching his daughter’s soccer game or helping his young son use the potty. The closest relationships for Ferris, who is finalizing a divorce from his wife, are those with the sources he develops in the Middle East—the very same people Hoffman sees as little more than temporarily useful, to be disposed of once they’ve divulged information. (“You milked him, and he was dry,” he coldly tells Ferris about one of the contacts who has risked his life to provide intelligence.)