BODY OF LIES – Movie Review

October 12, 2008

“Body of Lies” is a certain type of movie designed for a certain type of moviegoer. I think the tagline describes the movie perfectly, actually. “Trust no one. Deceive everyone.” And therein lies the biggest asset (and liability) to the production: no matter who the audience identifies with (and subsequently roots for), there is always a lingering question of their inherent “goodness.” Since the film has no actual interest in the moral complexities of intelligence gathering in the post-9/11 world, we´re left with Leonardo DiCaprio running around the Middle East for two hours, with Russell Crowe lying in his ear.

Roger Ferris (DiCaprio) heads up intelligence in the Far East for the CIA, taking him to various hot spots all around the region. When a new extremist group starts attacking western cities, Ferris is called in by his boss in Washington, D.C. Ed Hoffman (Crowe) to take the reigns in Jordan. However, when he gets there, Ferris becomes embroiled in a cat and mouse game where the objective is information and the currency is personal integrity.
At some point, the studios will figure out exactly how to treat the current conflict in Iraq in fiction films.

That point is not now. None of the major productions about world events over the past couple of years have produced any kind of buzz. Not “In the Valley of Elah” (aside from the Oscar nomination for Tommy Lee Jones). Not “Redacted.” Not “The Kingdom” or “Stop-Loss.” Each film has tried a different take on the information to no avail. So what made director Ridley Scott and one of the most socially conscious (and easily overlooked actors in DiCaprio) think the mundane work of intelligence gathering would turn the audience´s collective head?
To be fair, “Body of Lies” isn´t a snoozer. Actually, with appropriate expectations, it´s a solid movie which doubles down on the two lead actors. Without them and Scott, this film doesn´t get made. Why? There´s more action in a standard episode of “24” than in this 128 minute dialogue driven, listen up or you´ll be lost, connect the dots drama. And there is nothing wrong with that kind of film, mind you. It just won´t generate ticket sales.

But back to the movie itself. To its credit, the screenplay (adapted from a novel by David Ignatius by “The Departed” Oscar winner William Monahan) refuses to paint any side of the ongoing conflict as stereotypically good or bad. Americans lie. Jordanians lie. Muslims kill civilians. It is this quality which allows “Body of Lies” to rise above the normal calls of preachy left wing Hollywood. (Yes, most of the lying is instigated by Hoffman and he falls into the ugly American stereotype.)

The script, though, falls apart on itself in the last third of the film when it moves from being about the politics of intelligence to concerning itself with a love story. In some way, the ending makes sense for a film about an ongoing event. How does it end? It´s not with a military victory; that would be disingenuous. And it can´t be with a military defeat for the same reason. So the focus necessarily comes off the bigger picture, focusing on a microcosm of that world. The problem is that the events we follow aren´t at all riveting. Espionage, setting up fake identities…that´s where the movie should have kept its focus.

Part of the issue is DiCaprio´s lack of chemistry with Golshifteh Farahani, who plays love interest Aisha. Simply, we don´t connect with them on any level. She´s a nurse and patches him up after an encounter with dogs. That makes him instantly smitten with her? It´s as if a part for a female was shoehorned into the story at some point in order to make sure both genders were represented. Whether or not that´s the case, that´s what it feels like.

The film jumps between locations as a matter of course, with Hoffman stationed mostly in the United States. He turns into a major problem for the movie. To put two talented actors in the same room or in the same location should always be the ultimate goal in order to see how they play off one another. But when they are only seen talking to one another over the phone, no tension is built and we don´t get a sense of who they are in relation to each other. It´s a drab event to watch. (Their scenes together-and with Mark Strong as a Jordanian intelligence chief work precisely because they are together, even if the interaction doesn´t exactly light up the screen.) Of no help is Crowe being given nothing of any importance or interest to do for the entire length of the movie, forcing DiCaprio to keep the action moving on his own.

At some point, “Body of Lies” forgets itself. After two different vicious bombings, the film forgets terrorist leaders promised a campaign of terror across Europe and America. Even the finale, where every piece of information the audience needs to put the plot together, runs out of steam. Not so much because of the plot twists and people involved, but because the one person who demanded the truth turns out to be a liar. It´s like Ferris comments throughout the movie: who can he believe?

For all the talent involved-including strong supporting performances from Strong and Farahani, among others-and location shooting around the world, “Body of Lies” tries to be something different and manages to do so, but at what penalty? The movie is overly talky without managing to actually have a message (aside from, perhaps, there are no innocent people in the world or everyone lies). Despite the weight of expectations, it still rates a 6 out of 10. Just be prepared for what you´re getting.

Director : Ridley Scott


Roger Ferris – Leonardo DiCaprio
Ed Hoffman – Russell Crowe
Hani Salaam – Mark Strong
Aisha – Golshifteh Farahani
Bassam – Oscar Isaac
Al-Saleem – Alon Aboutboul
Garland – Simon McBurney
Skip – Vince Colosimo
Omar Sadiki – Ali Suliman
Nizar – Mehdi Nebbou
Holiday – Michael Gaston
Mustafa Karami – Kais Nashif
Marwan – Jameel Khoury
Aisha’s Sister Cala – Lubna Azabal


2 Responses to “BODY OF LIES – Movie Review”

  1. vinod Says:

    do u think this movie will be a block buster..?

  2. jamesbrunto Says:

    Body of Lies are well reached story and definitely a movie to watch
    terror has been very much define and cool story it was
    saw the movie at

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