, Russell Crowe, Mark Strong | R
One way to measure a movie's worth is by how long it remains burrowed into your brain. At first look, Body of Lies
seems to be grappling with weighty issues involving U.S. intelligence abuses and anti-terrorism tactics. But only hours after viewing, this action thriller from director Ridley Scott (American Gangster) has slipped from your mind, leaving as impermanent a mark as the lead character's footsteps when he trudges through desert sand.
Roger Ferris (DiCaprio) works undercover for the CIA in Iraq and other Middle Eastern hot spots, rooting out terrorists. His boss Ed Hoffman (Crowe) remains stateside but—thanks to cell phones, satellites and other high-tech gadgets—can follow the younger man's movements 24/7 and tell him what to do next. As Ferris gets deeper into a dangerous operation in Jordan, he clashes with Hoffman and begins to question his mission and just whom he can really trust.
Lies has a surfeit of plot—it can be tricky to follow—and is more concerned with incidents than ideas, despite its debates about CIA policy. DiCaprio, sporting a scraggly beard, makes for a sensitive hero; Crowe adds sparks of humor, though he literally phones this one in. The true scene-stealer here is English actor Mark Strong who, as the urbane head of Jordanian intelligence, is like a sleek panther waiting to pounce.
Gerard Butler, Thandie Newton, Tom Wilkinson | R
Writer-director Guy Ritchie (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
) keeps making the same movie, with diminishing returns. His latest, yet another pleased-with-itself look at the big and small fish of London's criminal underworld, starts off promisingly, charting the connections between a mobster (Wilkinson), a Russian tycoon, a chic accountant (Newton) and a small-time hustler (Butler). But flash and technique only go so far. The characters in RocknRolla
are never more than clever constructs and, eventually, that cleverness wears thin.
Dennis Quaid, Rob Brown | PG
Ernie Davis, a speedy star halfback at Syracuse University, won the 1961 Heisman Trophy and became the first black player awarded college football's top honor. The Express movingly tells his story, embracing but also rising above the clichés of most sports movies. It does so by putting his struggles both on and off the field into context, showing how Davis (Brown), his teammates and coach (Quaid) were affected by the burgeoning civil rights movement and the rampant racism and segregation that existed in parts of the country.
Brown, his face registering every slight and hurt, gives a strong performance; Quaid is equally solid as a coach who grows to prize Davis as much for the man he is as the player. Like Remember the Titans, another true-life football tale, Express
is terrific to show to kids 8 and up as a starting point to discuss race, how far we've come—and where we still need to go.
Sally Hawkins, Eddie Marsan, Alexis Zegerman | R
Poppy (Hawkins), a primary school teacher in London, is happy darn near all the time. Initially, in this wonderful film by director-writer Mike Leigh (Vera Drake), Poppy's constant cheeriness verges on irritating. But that changes as you come to know her and her life, and see her deeply caring interactions with others, including a troubled pupil and an enraged driving instructor (Marsan). It becomes clear that Poppy has chosen to approach life optimistically—and it's a brave and moving decision. All long, fluttery limbs and infectious giggle, Hawkins (of last winter's PBS version of Jane Austen's Persuasion) dazzles in a radiant, star-making performance.
• In the biopic Billy: The Early Years
, the actress, 59, plays the dynamic evangelist's mom.
WHAT DREW YOU TO THE FILM?
I always admired Billy for his integrity and lack of divisiveness in expressing his beliefs.
STILL FEEL THE PRESSURE OF BEING THE BIONIC WOMAN?
No. I was working hard to make Bionic Woman about internal power, not external power. It's part of my life.
AND NOW YOU RUN SELF-HELP WORKSHOPS.
Why not? I wanted to be a psychologist, but I was dyslexic and couldn't get through college. I'm into the experience of a shift in perspective.
What makes Bill Murray's recent career so fascinating—his latest, City of Ember
(below), didn't screen in time for review—is its inconsistency. He flits, seemingly effortlessly, between wacky cameos in fluff like Get Smart
and ruminative explorations of middle-aged melancholia in small gems like Lost in Translation
. I say, the more Murray, the merrier.
• The British actor, 26, rapidly transformed his body to play a crack-addicted musician in director Guy Ritchie's latest, RocknRolla
WORKING WITH GUY RITCHIE, DID YOU GET TO MEET MADONNA
Yes, and she's lovely. I've never met a woman who's elegant in leather, you know? She was. That's impressive!
DID SHE GIVE YOU ANY TIPS ON PLAYING A ROCK STAR?
It was a very bizarre conversation that we had. She came, unfortunately for her, on a day when I had a bit of my bum hanging out the top of my trousers because I was so thin at the end of the shoot. So she just said to me, "I saw your tushie!"
SPEAKING OF THIN, YOU LOST 21 LBS. FOR THE MOVIE. HOW DID YOU DO IT?
I starved myself for seven days, and then I ate one very small meal a day for nine weeks. The usual small meal was half a British-sized tin of tuna on a red pepper with some olive oil, pepper and Tabasco sauce.
AFTER FILMING, IT MUST HAVE BEEN FUN TO GAIN IT ALL BACK. I tried, but your body gets so used to eating very little. So when I went for a big meal on my last night, I could only eat two pieces of dim sum.