This weekend's The Losers, based on a comic book by Andy Diggle, concerns a U.S. black ops team that is betrayed by their CIA handler, a distasteful character named Max (Jason Patric). They swear revenge on their former employers, starting a campaign to hunt down those at the Agency responsible for their betrayal. The result is a bloody, profane action flick, with the Central Intelligence Agency playing the role of the near-omnipotent dastardly villain.
The CIA has a storied movie history, especially recently. Because so few people know the reality of what the Agency actually does, and because words like "spy" and "clandestine" and "black ops" are so desperately intriguing, films about the CIA are, at their best, an opportunity for genre screenwriters to let their imaginations run wild. Some Hollywood efforts to depict the Agency have attempted to hew close to reality as we in the general public know it; others have used the concept of the CIA as a starting point for speculative fiction or farfetched thriller plots; still others just wanted to have fun. Here's a list of seven varied starring roles for our most mysterious branch of government.
1. Body of Lies (Ridley Scott) - Probably my favorite CIA movie ever, Body of Lies manages to do almost all of the things I mentioned above. Based on a novel by David Ignatius, a journalist who spent years covering the Agency, it is at once a thrilling spy flick, a candid portrayal of the dangerous and unglamorous life of an overseas operative, and a damned insightful critique of America's hopelessly backward approach to the Middle East. Leonardo DiCaprio, who's had some credibility problems in "adult" roles, is at his most convincing as William Ferris, a tough, jaded, streetwise agent who has to navigate a crisis while dealing with the myopic obstinance of his superiors back home.