Body of Lies

Movie Information

The Story: A CIA agent stationed in the Middle East must figure out a way -- with the help of his arrogant boss -- to capture a mysterious terrorist mastermind. The Lowdown: A slick action-oriented thriller with some strong performances that tries to be something more by being politically aware, but never quite feels as significant as it would like.
Score:

Genre: Espionage Thriller
Director: Ridley Scott
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Mark Strong, Golshifteh Farahani, Simon McBurney
Rated: R

Call it moxie, hubris or plain old bad decision-making, but director Ridley Scott has attempted to do something no one else has been able to thus far: make a film focusing on the situation in Iraq and the war on terror palatable to the general moviegoing public. And he almost succeeded with Body of Lies, even if talking dogs and lurching horrors has kept the film out of the top box-office spot.

For the longest time, Scott has struck me as a director who isn’t a filmmaker, but rather a man who makes movies. Sure, he’s definitely slick and professional behind the camera, but when I think of a Ridley Scott picture, no distinct style or modus operandi sticks out in my mind. He makes Hollywood movies very well, but has managed to create a weighty reputation based around a couple of nearly 30-year-old sci-fi flicks and the public’s ability to forget stuff like A Good Year (2006) or Kingdom of Heaven (2005).

While I’m certainly in the minority in this opinion, I make the distinction because what works for Body of Lies lies in its ability to entertain without the heavy-handed politicking that has seemingly handcuffed other films dealing with the same subjects. Unfortunately, this just happens to be a double-edged sword, since while the movie works as entertainment, it inevitably feels too insubstantial to transcend its generic role as a basic action thriller.

Patrick Monahan’s (The Departed) script intertwines CIA agent Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio), his dealings with the head of Jordanian intelligence, Hani (Mark Strong, Babylon A.D.), and the complications created by Roger’s boss Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe, who packed on quite a bit of weight for the role). All of these machinations are in the name of capturing a mysterious terrorist mastermind (Alon Abutbul, Munich) who refuses to come out and play. This is all sandwiched in between a heavy dose of gunplay and explosions, lending to the feeling that Ridley is channeling his brother Tony. And while the movie’s often clever enough (the idea of Ed on his cell phone “saving civilization,” while taking his kids to school or attending his daughter’s soccer games is a nice touch), it’s still your basic globetrotting espionage package wrapped up in a smattering of gloss.

Since the movie is called Body of Lies it’s easy to guess that the plot is predicated on the art of deception, especially since the film fancies itself as a bit of a spy yarn. At the same time, the film is carried by the interactions of its characters and the snags this creates—from Roger’s dedication to his work to Hani’s sense of honor to Ed’s constant interference in the name of doing what’s right for America. It’s all an attempt at a thinking-man’s action flick, with the principal idea being that America’s bureaucracy (and by extension, the American people) has no idea what’s really going down in Iraq since it’s not there. Oh, and there’s also the overriding concept that “war is hell” stuck in the cracks between shoot-outs.

The only reason it all meshes is due to the film’s performances. DiCaprio is as dependable as ever, and Crowe once again (after last year’s 3:10 to Yuma) shows that he seems finally to be working for his reputation. Down the line, there isn’t a bad performance in the bunch, take for example Simon McBurney (The Duchess) who manages to stand out in a generally underused, thankless role.

But in the end, Scott’s high-mindedness isn’t quite enough to lift Body of Lies out of its popcorn-movie ties. Most of this is due to a script that relies too much on an undercooked romance that yearns for an emotional believability it doesn’t deserve and a climax that doesn’t quite add up. This doesn’t keep the film from being engaging, but it does prevent it from reaching the sometimes deeper, loftier goals the film strives for. Rated R for strong violence, including some torture, and for language throughout.

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11 thoughts on “Body of Lies

  1. Louis

    This doesn’t keep the film from being engaging, but it does prevent it from reaching the sometimes deeper, loftier goals the film strives for.

    This summation could have been accurately written verbatim for R. Scott’s GLADIATOR and AMERICAN GANGSTER as well. His movies have big aspirations, without the filmmaker’s soul to fulfill them. From one movie to the next, he merely fills the screen with Hollywood artifacts.

    This is the fourth movie he’s made with Crowe. Other than Burton/Depp is there any other current director/actor combo that’s worked together this many times?

    By the way, script writer Monahan’s first name is William, not Patrick.

  2. Justin Souther

    This is the fourth movie he’s made with Crowe. Other than Burton/Depp is there any other current director/actor combo that’s worked together this many times?

    The first combo which comes to mind (at least for me) would be Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson, though I’m sure one could make the argument that their relationship differs a bit (as it’s often times more collaborative) from Scott/Crowe or even Burton/Depp.

    By the way, script writer Monahan’s first name is William, not Patrick.

    Yikes, how did that happen? The idea of some sort of Freudian slip frightens me.

  3. Ken Hanke

    The idea of some sort of Freudian slip frightens me

    As well it should.

    And apart from Burton/Depp and Anderson/Wilson, I’m not coming up with another pairing like this. A case could be made for Neil Jordan and Stephen Rea, but Rea is hardly the star player in some cases.

  4. Scorsese and DeNiro are working on another gangster film together. That’s about eight movies that I can think of.

  5. Ken Hanke

    Scorsese and DeNiro are working on another gangster film together. That’s about eight movies that I can think of.

    Well, then they qualify.

  6. Justin Souther

    Speaking of Scorsese, it appears he has two more films coming up starring Leonardo DiCaprio, one of which is next year’s Shutter Island and — oddly enough — a biopic about Teddy Roosevelt, with DiCaprio playing the lead.

  7. Louis

    And apart from Burton/Depp and Anderson/Wilson, I’m not coming up with another pairing like this. A case could be made for Neil Jordan and Stephen Rea, but Rea is hardly the star player in some cases.

    Steven Soderbergh & George Clooney?
    Spike Lee & Denzil Washington?
    Woody Allen & Diane Keaton?
    Mike Nichols & Meryl Streep?

  8. clkwrkred

    Internationally Penelope Cruz and Pedro Almadovar, and Gong Li and Zhang Yimou

  9. dave marks

    you could’ve titled this movie “barack obama’s body of lies”. i mean does anybody with a brain really think he is going to cut taxes for 95% of the middle class?

  10. Ken Hanke

    you could’ve titled this movie “barack obama’s body of lies”. i mean does anybody with a brain really think he is going to cut taxes for 95% of the middle class?

    And this political rant of yours has exactly what to do with this movie or with the discussion at hand?

  11. Louis

    you could’ve titled this movie “barack obama’s body of lies”. i mean does anybody with a brain really think he is going to cut taxes for 95% of the middle class?

    And this political rant of yours has exactly what to do with this movie or with the discussion at hand?

    Better, still, you could’ve titled this movie “Dave Marks’ transparent attempt to advance random out-of-context political soapboxing on a local movie message board.” (Pretty catchy title, huh)? i mean does anybody with a brain really think he is making a productive, insightful contribution to 95% of the people reading this?

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