This spy does not need a permit for his wake to be littered with corpses. All he has to do is work for the CIA between Baghdad and Amman. Roger Ferris, the hero of Lies of the State, wears his nationality like a curse, and Ridley Scott, the director, treats the adventures of his antihero like an expiatory pilgrimage, the second in a diptych after Kingdom of Heaven (2005), set during the First Crusade.

Despite his age (he was born in 1937), Scott shows more grace in the art of digital warfare than in the handling of the thrust, and Lies of State will remain as one of the most successful of action films born from the rubble of September 11.

Adapted from a novel by journalist David Ignatius (published in France in 2007 by Odile Jacob) by the screenwriter of The Departed (2006), William Monahan, Lies of State is written for two characters: Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio), man of field, Arabic speaker who pays generously of his own person, and Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe), bureaucrat whose material life is suburban, from his meetings in Langley (CIA HQ) to supermarket shopping in Virginia, while he runs blood through the earpiece of his cell phone.

Below reality

Every time Roger Ferris has a good idea, whether he recruits a deserter from Al-Qaeda in Iraq or sets up an operation with the Jordanian services, Ed Hoffman screws everything up through self-importance, faith in the the most brutal methods. We could believe in caricature if reading the international pages of the American press had not demonstrated that the enormous talent that Russell Crowe uses to make his character repugnant remains a little below reality. As for Leonardo DiCaprio’s qualities as a martyr, they have no longer been demonstrated since Blood Diamond (2007) and The Departed (2006).

Ridley Scott takes obvious pleasure in depicting the dirty tricks that the CIA pulls out of its bag of tricks, full of drones, cybernetic snitches and good old torture sessions.

Ferris and Hoffman attempt to bring a terrorist leader out of hiding by inventing a rival group. But to do this, they need the collaboration of the head of Jordanian intelligence, Hani Pasha (played by the British Mark Strong with more than oriental suavity). Everything will go wrong until the CIA agent comes to the idea that only the Orientals can solve the problems of the Orient.

To arrive at this conclusion, the film loses a little of the oppressive precision which gave its charm during its first half. But it never departs from its falsely documentary aspect, from its trompe-l’oeil realism which is in fact a perfectly accomplished form of spectacle.