March 02, 2009
Review - " Body of Lies " - (on DVD) By Roland Hansen
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Body of Lies
Directed by : Ridley Scott
Starring: Leonardo Dicaprio, Russell Crowe, Mark Strong, Golshifteh Farahani
Have we grown over tired of these mideast conflict films? The best of which,
"The Kingdom" came out a couple years ago. Then there were the disasterous
ones from last year "Rendition", "Day Zero", Lions for Lambs" & "Stop Loss",
the better ones "Grace is Gone" & "In The Valley of Elah" were more about the
families and less about the war. And of course there's the scathingly funny satire
"War, Inc" (worth watching just to see tween queen Hilary Duff put a live scorpion
down her pants). We've been fed this mostly undercooked, bland, tasteless slop
for so long we yearn for something more substantial to feed on. And now comes
director Ridley Scott to serve us up another helping of Middle Eastern cuisine
with "Body of Lies"
One thing Ridley Scott always manages to do in his films is ground the film in
reality very well, setting a mood that allows us to get into the film easier. While it
has its dark moments, I wouldn't consider this a supremely dark or depressing
picture, despite the subject matter. In Body of Lies, his take on the War on
Terror in the Middle East is gripping and realistic, though not as thrilling as it
could be. Though put in danger many times throughout the film, I didn't find
myself on the edge of my seat whenever those moments rolled around.
Technically well made, just like every other Scott films, "Body of Lies" brings nothing new to the table while taking things
we've seen before and one-upping the last to do it. The preview can be a bit deceiving in marketing the film as an action
political thriller, like Blood Diamond, when in reality it is the thinking man's thriller without that plot twist I thought would be
coming. While the film does have some marvelous and well done action, it's few and far between, as the film is more about
gathering intelligence than intelligently blowing everything up.
DiCaprio plays CIA operative Roger Ferris, who is trying to flush out a terrorist leader named Al-Saleem in Jordan. He gets
his orders from Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe), a man for whom results are the only satisfactory outcome, delivered with a fair
amount of arrogance and a cocky Southern drawl. Ed plays the situation like a kid playing a video game, and has the
resources to change the rules anytime he feels like it, dispensing his orders from his office, from his backyard, or from his
daughter's soccer game. This, of course, infuriates Ferris to no end, because he is the one who is in the trenches, chasing
the bad guys, dodging bullets, ducking explosions, and procuring the badly-needed intelligence that Hoffman needs. Ferris
is also trying to build a productive working relationship with the head of Jordanian Intelligence, Hani Salaam (Mark Strong),
a relationship that is made even more tenuous by Hoffman's double-dealings and hidden agendas. As Hani, Mark Strong
("Sunshine", "Stardust") leaves the most vivid impression of the cast but for the most old-fashioned of cinematic reasons -
he plays what could be a villainous figure as a suave, mysterious man of honor who is completely on top of his job, an
intentional counterpoint, at least physically, to Crowe's slovenly Hoffman.
Anyone who read the title of the movie can guess the basics of what happens next: Ferris gets caught in a web of lies,
some created by him, some by his boss, and he struggles to do the right thing and break free from all he has constructed.
The lies are actually relatively simple and easy to keep track of. There isn't betrayal upon betrayal which so many movies
get caught up in these days, but the pacing does suffer due to a plot that forces itself to be intricate when it would be better
served by simplicity.
The movie isn't perfect but it somehow gets away with being an enjoyable genre piece and a genuinely thought-provoking
and perceptive film, with actual understanding of mid-eastern politics and culture, wonderfully involving characters
(including the refreshingly non-sexual love interest Aisha, played by Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani), and even a
surprising sense of humor. "Body of Lies" is most definitely a cut above most in its (overall quite poor) sub-genre, and one
of the better surprises of the year.
While "Body of Lies" is definitely a product of a post-911 world, it does not feel like the numerous post-911 political thrillers
such as "Syriana" due to it's subtlety. It's more of spy thriller with a cautionary tale on America's foreign relations mixed in.
Body of Lies is a smart political thriller on the state of some of the world's debacles.