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Capsule reviews of films playing the week of Nov. 5

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BODY OF LIES Despite Russell Crowe's shared marquee billing, this is really Leonardo DiCaprio's film, as the young thespian handles the part of Roger Ferris, a compassionate CIA point man working in the Middle East under the jaded eye of his ruthless superior (Crowe) back in the U.S. Hoping to track down a bin Laden-like terrorist (a menacing Alon Aboutboul) responsible for a series of attacks on America and its allies, Ferris ends up traveling to Jordan and entering into a terse relationship with Hani Salaam (Stardust's Mark Strong), the head of Jordanian intelligence. The film's best scenes are between DiCaprio and Strong, as their characters alternate between working together and keeping each other at arm's length. Better than the vast majority of the post-9/11 terrorist yarns, Body of Lies is both more ambiguous and ambitious than such heavy-handed duds as Rendition and Redacted. Director Ridley Scott (who last teamed with Crowe on American Gangster) and The Departed's Oscar-winning screenwriter William Monaghan (working from David Ignatius' novel) refrain from merely putting Ferris and Hoffman through the good-cop-bad-cop routine: Ferris' idealism isn't always beneficial, while Hoffman might be a prick, but he occasionally exhibits more clarity than might be expected. And even a superfluous romance between Ferris and a Muslim nurse (Golshifteh Farahani) allows for some insight into societal disapproval for such a coupling, as the pair can't even shake hands in public. It's the extra attention to smaller details that gives this Body its necessary heft. ***

THE DUCHESS A substantial number of British costume dramas focus on the efforts of a corseted beauty to land a husband to call her own. These tales generally end on a "Happily Ever After" note, but The Duchess, based on a true story, begins where the others end and takes matters down a darker route: What if the man you snag turns out to be a complete lout? Keira Knightley stars as Georgiana, who, as a teenage girl in 1774, is entered into a marriage with the Duke of Devonshire (Ralph Fiennes). She soon discovers that the Duke's only interest in her is that she produce a male heir, so after she gives birth to a couple of girls, he loses complete interest and embarks on an affair with her best friend, Lady Elizabeth (Hayley Atwell). For her part, Georgiana keeps busy in her role as a society trendsetter, but she eventually finds herself contemplating an illicit romance with rising politician Charles Grey (Dominic Cooper). The Duke commits some monstrous acts during the course of the film, but it's a credit to the performance by Fiennes that the character never emerges as a dull, one-note villain but rather an emotionally stifled man whose Neanderthal brain can't quite grasp certain aspects of civility and respect. Likewise, Lady Elizabeth is revealed as far more than merely a spouse-stealer, and Atwell does an exemplary job of insuring her character remains the tenuous connective tissue between the Duke and the Duchess. As for Knightley, she's establishing herself as England's go-to girl for this sort of period epic: A bright and sunny presence in Pride and Prejudice, she's given greater depths to explore in this picture. She doesn't disappoint. ***

EAGLE EYE The peril of encroaching technology has been a cinematic mainstay at least since Stanley Kubrick allowed HAL to temporarily get the upper hand in 1968's 2001: A Space Odyssey (film purists can feel free to go even further back, to Fritz Lang's 1927 Metropolis), but rarely has this intriguing concept been presented as daftly as in Eagle Eye. Executive-produced by Steven Spielberg, this tiresome action yarn finds slacker Jerry Shaw (Shia LaBeouf) and single mom Rachel Holloman (Michelle Monaghan) drawn into what appears to be a terrorist strike against the United States. Initially strangers, they find themselves working together after each one receives threatening phone calls from a woman who orders them to carry out her instructions ... or else. The caller seemingly has control over every electronic device in sight, as she's able to manipulate traffic lights, power lines, subway cars and cell phones. Even allowing for the big twist that reveals the villain's identity, this requires a greater suspension of disbelief than might be humanly possible. If Jerry perishes during the course of his misadventures, then the assignment's a bust, yet the caller repeatedly places him in death-defying situations (I especially liked his leap-before-you-look jump from a speeding train). A faster running time might have helped us overlook the gaping idiocies, but the film is packed with repetitive – and poorly edited – vehicular chases that bloat this to a punishing two hours. But pay heed to the movie's warning: Technological advancements might indeed become a concern in the future, especially if they allow for greater mass production of duds like this one. *1/2

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