Review: Body of Lies (2008) R 128min
October 12th, 2008 by Maxim · 5 Comments · 8,498 Views
This spy/action flick is directed by Ridley Scott (American Gangster (2007), Num3rs, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007), Kingdom of Heaven (2005), Matchstick Men (2003), Black Hawk Down (2001)). It’s based on Washington Post columnist David Ignatius’s 2007 novel “Body of Lies”.
The plot: CIA operative, Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio), who, despite his young age, quickly advanced through CIA’s ranks, uncovers a lead on a major terrorist leader Al-Saleem (Alon Aboutboul), who had been bombing random civilian targets in Europe and was suspected to be operating out of Oman, Jordan. Ferris devises a plan to infiltrate Al-Saleem’s terrorist network. His boss Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe) in CIA headquarters in Langley provides him with advise and support – technological, military and mental. He also gets help from Chief of Intelligence of Jordan, Hani Salaam (Mark Strong).
The good: Certainly interesting and intelligent plot – a real spy game with deceit and tretury, although it’s not hard to follow. Each of the sides seems to make plausible and believable case for their actions. There’s a lot of suspense in the movie for many reasons. First, spies can’t trust each other. DiCaprio’s character doesn’t trust his own boss, doesn’t trust his Jordanian colleague and vice versa. Secondly, terrorists have their own counter-intelligence. Besides, they are so paranoid they don’t trust anyone, which doesn’t make infiltrating their network. Then, there are all these great action sequences, with their simplicity and unpredictability making them very realistic, and the suspense and thrill are about the outcome of a chase/gun battle. DiCaprio is still very young. He tries to appear more mature by growing a ridiculous beard, but it’s easy to tell he’s a kid. His acting has been improving with every movie though. In “Body of Lies” he started rather unevenly, but it became more dramatic and believable through the rest of the movie. Russel Crowe, who worked with Ridley Scott on Gladiator and A Good Year, gained a lot of weight to play a CIA bureaucrat, who’s very charismatic and who plays with people lives like a kid would play a video-game, sending orders from his office, his home, even his daughter’s football game. Well, he’s the head of the mission, but he doesn’t care about people much – everybody for him is either an expendable asset or a liability – the goal justifies the means. Once an agent or an asset is no longer useful – they are on their own. I also liked that the movie showed how inter-connected all countries in the Middle-East are, and how complex that part of the world is with all the different ethnicities living there, how different people are affected by the Iraq war and how U.S. foreign policy plays the major role there. It was fascinating to watch how his methods compared to the methods of the Jordanian intelligence. It was also interesting and ironic to see how the CIA operative gets caught n the web of lies he and others have weaved. It also raises the question about the human cost of “freedom”.
The bad: the movie is longer then it should have been. At least in the beginning, the CIA agents are cliche. From the start of the movie I could tell DiCaprio would be caught and either beaten or tortured or both. The relationship between Ferris and Iranian nurse Aisha (Golshifteh Farahani) escalated to rapidly and wasn’t explained enough and seems forced – Ferris was cautious all the time but nearly lost his head over a young nurse. The computer hacker character, Garland (Simon McBurney) was absolutely ridiculous – why are best hackers always hiding in the woods or basements (remember Warlock in Live Free or Die Hard?). Mark Strong as Jordanian Chief of Intelligence looked, talked and acted so much like Andy Garcia it was distracting. It was also rather hard to believe that most of this kind of operation could have been entirely controlled by cell-phone conversations. The scenes where both Crowe and DiCaprio appear together have zero chemistry between them.
The summary: a well-made spy action/thriller with Iraq war and American foreign policy as a background, which makes it a socially/politically-conscious drama. Flawed but clever and entertaining.
Ed Hoffman: Nobody’s innocent in this shit.
Hani: You [America] is more vulnerable then us because of your freedom and your free press.
Similar movies: Spy Game, Syriana, Munich, Constant Gardener.
The cast: Roger Ferris - Leonardo DiCaprio | Ed Hoffman - Russell Crowe | Hani – Mark Strong | Aisha - Golshifteh Farahani | Bassam – Oscar Isaac | Omar Sadiki – Ali Suliman | Al-Saleem – Alon Abutbul | Garland – Simon McBurney | Mustafa Karami – Kais Nashif | Aisha’s Sister Cala – Lubna Azabal
The crew: Director – Ridley Scott | Screenplay – William Monahan (Departed) | Producers – Ridley Scott, Charles J.D. Schlissel, Donald De Line, Michael Costigan, Zakaria Alaoui | Original Music – Marc Streitenfeld | Cinematography – Alexander Witt
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