Alien. Blade Runner. Gladiator. Black Hawk Down. Kingdom of Heaven. If you look at the laundry list of films that Ridley Scott has directed over the years, he has made some of the best movies over the last three decades. He has very few critical misses, and most of those misses aren't complete disasters. Basically, you give him a camera and a few good actors, and he'll make a quality film.
Body of Lies is Scott's latest movie, a CIA narrative starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe. DiCaprio stars as Roger Ferris, an up-and-coming field agent who has made a career of immersing himself in Arab countries and getting information that helps the United States in the War on Terror. Crowe plays Ed Hoffman, his handler, who generally spends his time walking around in pajamas and talking on his cell phone while watching his kids in Washington, D.C. After a series of attacks in Europe, the pressure is increased to produce the whereabouts of Al-Saleem (Alon Abutbul), the head of an Al Qaeda group. Ferris is assigned to Jordan, where he immediately strikes up a fragile friendship with the head of Jordanian intelligence, Hani (Mark Strong). There, he must walk that narrow line of appealing to diplomatic relations and allowing for proper, strategic intelligence, and satisfying Hoffman's desire for immediate information.
Body of Lies is a gorgeous film, with crisp, gritty visuals and scenery that looks like it was captured on location. Scott captures my long-distance view of the Middle East, a wasteland of desert that is also beautiful when seen in the right light. As a CIA film about operatives and terrorism, it would have been easy for Scott to get caught up in the visuals and deliver an onslaught of explosions, filthy marketplaces and expansive deserts and miss the storytelling altogether. Thankfully, Body of Lies is a well-balanced picture with a great story, tight pacing and a continuing sense of suspense that starts in the first minute.
Body of Lies received a very mixed response from critics, with some calling the script and story loose and unorganized. I disagree. The movie is exactly the kind of modern CIA story that walks that fine line of delivering an exciting experience while still maintaining some sense of reality in the way the plot is carried out. The movie bounces around between 10 or 12 different locations, often iteratively; Scott doesn't confine his characters or story to a single place, which just isn't representative of the global issues we're facing. A bomb may go off in the Netherlands, but the source may be in Jordan while the leads may be in Iraq and the counterintelligence in the United States. That's just the way things are, and Scott captures this sense of globalization very well. He also captures the idea that the big wigs in the U.S. - and their methods - are not as effective as they once were.
The bottom line is that Body of Lies is suspenseful and exciting from the first minute to the last. DiCaprio turns in another fine performance and continues to prove that he can tackle just about any character and transform himself into that person. Crowe is equally good, though his role is much smaller and less intense. Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani also delivers a good performance, perhaps as the one innocent in the entire picture. The screenplay and story work, though the movie isn't for everyone; the film isn't traditional in its narrative approach, and those looking for a mindless us-versus-them terrorism story should probably consider watching The Kingdom instead.
The only noticeable flaw with Body of Lies is the ending. Perhaps it's more realistic for things to come together quickly and then slip into the shadows, but the climax feels abrupt and unsatisfying. Without giving too much away, I was looking for something a little more elaborate, though at the same time I appreciate the revelations that come to light in the final minutes.
Body of Lies is not without its flaws, but it is an exciting and engaging movie about CIA operations in the Middle East.
Review by Robert Bell (C)
Attempting to be a geopolitical thriller that emphasizes the smug and detached perspectives of the men, both Western and Eastern, who manipulate and exploit those within the line of fire, Body of Lies has some aesthetic heave but is so structurally inept and contrived that it is difficult not to groan at every creaking turn.
Exacerbating this issue is some slightly outdated terrorist intelligence that tries to reveal the new age of information intelligence that simplifies the issue and ignores both Palestinian pride in martyrdom and the global filtration of terrorist information and funds that reaches much farther than America and the Middle East. It is not a lack of knowledge that creates these issues, as clearly a great deal of Intel and research went into the story when it was written, but more an issue of overlooking some glaring realities for the sake of a dramatic arc that, as mentioned, should only fool the foolish with its obvious intentions.
Based on David Ignatius's 2007 novel about a CIA operative, Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio), who learns of a terrorist ringleader operating out of Jordan, Body of Lies examines his efforts to infiltrate the ring while being used and manipulated by both his own government, which is embodied by Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe), and Jordan criminal intelligence, which is embodied by Hani (Mark Strong).
In between the many life-threatening scenarios, Ferris develops a hard-on for an Iranian nurse living in Jordan named Aisha (Golshifteh Farahani), which as one can only imagine has a purpose outside of showing what a charming guy Roger Ferris can be.
Scott's borderline fetishistic obsession with slow-motion explosions, aerial tracking shots and purposefully juxtaposed colour schemes matches the material well, as many of the action sequences are really quite tense and impressively crafted but his slatternly attempts at emotional urgency are often amusing.Visually oriented individuals looking for some inherently male knuckle-dragging antics should be pleased with the on-screen pissing contest but everyone else will have to make due with minor amusements and a better-than-usual performance from DiCaprio.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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