Body of Lies has slipped on and off my radar over the past couple of months. It's hard to ignore because it's Ridley Scott working with Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe, and yet the previews haven't looked all that original. But I went anyway, hoping to be entertained and thinking that if it turned out to be thought-provoking as well, all the better.
The thing is, this movie doesn't do more than it has to in terms of both entertainment and thought-provocation. There's a tedious quality to it that, despite some good action scenes and funny lines, is hard to shake. That said, I appreciate that Scott aims to give us a slightly different, more psychological view of life on the ground for American operatives in the Middle East. But to see why I'm a bit torn about this movie, read more.
DiCaprio (sporting some icky facial hair and a strange accent) plays Roger Ferris, a CIA agent operating in the Middle East on the hunt for an elusive Bin Laden-type mastermind named Al-Saleem. He's only ever a cell phone call away from his boss, Ed Hoffman (Crowe), who runs the show from the comfort of his suburban home in the Washington DC area and some kind of mission control room where he can view Ferris's whereabouts via satellite. The whole thing has a Big Brother feel to it while demonstrating how easy it is for people (like the calculating Hoffman) to detach from the messy moral issues that take place on the ground.
Both characters come to embody the different aspects of a war of this nature: Crowe's paunchy Hoffman pragmatically give orders through a lazy Southern accent while stuffing his face with food. Meanwhile, DiCaprio's Ferris blends into the Arab world and earns their trust, only to pick shrapnel out of his skin when things go awry due to the impatience of his boss. It's kind of a funny thing watching Crowe peer over his glasses in comfy armchairs while DiCaprio rolls around from one explosion to the next the whole movie. In this world, catching terrorists is a mad scramble, with agents literally rummaging through the post-bombing rubble looking for evidence and information. There's nothing particularly organized or methodical about it until they partner with the most interesting character in the movie, Hani, the head of Jordanian intelligence.
The introduction of Hani, played beautifully by the handsome Mark Strong, is where things get good as he warns the Americans not to lie to him and to let him do his job. Of course, Hoffman decides they need results more quickly and he pressures young Ferris to embark on a risky scheme behind Hani's back. Unfortunately, this all happens during the last third of the movie, and up until this plot-thickening it's all rather pointless and predictable, not to mention boring.
Though torture is used and both lead characters give monologues about winning the war on terror, the movie's focus has less to do with any kind of political statement and more to do with use and abuse of relationships as mere means to an end (in this case capturing jihadists). It fails to bring to the table in a new and entertaining way what we already know about spies: no one is to be trusted, human life is disposable, and technology only complicates matters. As a result, Body of Lies has some bright spots of action and intrigue sprinkled throughout an otherwise forgettable entry into the political thriller genre.
Photos courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures