De Niro’s message, like his characters (which include an all-star cast), are ambiguous.  We’re left to sift through the muddle, asking ourselves questions like whether it’s acceptable to assassinate spies.  It’s tempting to answer “yes,” especially when their revelations cause dozens of deaths, as they did during the Bay of Pigs invasion.  Yet, it also violates every foundation of the democratic ideal that has come to define our country, including the right to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence.  But can a spy really be tried in court? 

Wisely, De Niro refuses to give us any answers, which will make for great discussion fodder.

The costumes and the set dressing are fascinating, along with the fictional glimpse into society’s elitest WASPs.  Screenwriter Eric Roth’s dialogue is also outstanding.  In one conversation, Joe Pesci, a mobster, says, “We Italians have our family.  The Irish have their homeland.  Even the [African-Americans] have their music.  But what do you government people have?”  Wilson replies, “We have the United States of America.  The rest of you are just visiting.”

Look also for superb performances by Billy Crudup as a British agent; William Hurt as the C.I.A. director; and John Turturro as Wilson’s right-hand man.  Jolie also does an excellent job in her role as Wilson’s lonely wife.  In fact, it’s she who utters the real message of the film.  When the “Bonesmen” first meet at their annual retreat, they are called to order and then the meal is blessed.  “Bonesmen first, God second,” Jolie quips.  Later, she says, “Agency first, God second.”

It’s a warning we would all do well to heed.

AUDIENCE:  Adults

DVD EXTRAS:

  • 16 minutes of deleted scenes

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Characters smoke and drink throughout film.  Occasionally, one appears drunk.  A government agent uses LSD as a truth serum during an interrogation
  • Language/Profanity:  A few obscenities and profanities, some strong.
  • Sexual Content/Nudity:  Film opens with sex scene that is replayed continually throughout film on audiotape and through photos.  Other sexual scenes, viewed from the side; nude men mud-wrestle; a nude man is viewed from the side, laying down, as part of an initiation into a secret society.  Various vague homosexual allusions, an attempted (though extremely discrete) seduction, and dialogue about homosexual affairs.
  • Violence:  One extended scene during which a man is brutally beaten and tortured.  Numerous characters are also killed throughout film, usually off-screen but in emotionally violent ways.  In one, a character is stabbed in the shadows, then is heard screaming in pain.  In another, a character is thrown from an airplane (we later learn that she was pregnant).