Picks and Pans Review: Body of Lies

updated 10/20/2008 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/20/2008 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Mark Strong | R

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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.

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