Body of Lies – Review

DiCaprio. Crowe. Scott. That’s all you need to know.

Director: Ridley Scott
Notable Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe and Mark Strong

Ridley Scott’s globetrotting geopolitical thriller, Body of Lies, based on David Ignatius’s novel of the same name, is a penetrating view of the war on terror and the way the U.S. goes about conducting business in the Middle East and back home—mulling over intelligence briefs—almost always by way of cell phones.

Its opening scene is prefaced with stanzas from W.H. Auden’s poem “September 1, 1939.” I made a note of it at the time, and have since read the seventy-year-old poem. While written in the early days of World War II, certain lines bare a greater significance in the post-9/11 world.

Global terror abounds, but Scott’s picture does not stir up the anti-war mentality that has been clogging the cineplexes for years, because this is a star-driven vehicle with two of Hollywood’s biggest thespians. Leonardo DiCaprio, who steps away from Marty Scorsese to work with Scott for the first time, is Roger Ferris, the young U.S. Intelligence agent, who speaks fluent Arabic, and is one of the best, if not boldest, operatives in the Middle East.

His superior is power hungry CIA vet Ed Hoffman, played by Russell Crowe. This feature is his fourth collaboration with Scott, and while only a supporting role, it may be Crowe’s best physical transformation since The Insider. Carrying a paunch to match his acerbic personality, Crowe is able to exude that sense of American arrogance, as it is perceived around the world. He is the wizard behind the curtain, the man on the other end of the cell, who communicates with Ferris, even while enjoying a bowl Cheerios.

DiCaprio does the lion’s share of the work since he occupies the central role, and through him we act as a second pair of eyes, watching how intelligence gathering goes about. As such, the dissemination of information obtained is a major determinant in capturing terror suspects and infiltrating terror cells. This is the new age of terrorism.

William Monahan, who gained an Oscar for penning The Departed, brings the gritty realism and multi-dimensional story of Ignatius’s novel to life, with all the twists and turns we’ve come to expect from the Jason Bourne films, all the while examining the complex nature of terrorism, both on the front lines and stateside. Body of Lies follows the procedural formula in its progression, but the shifting of locales (from Virginia to as far as Jordan and Dubai) gives the narrative a flair for espionage and how the war on terror is conducted in today’s unpredictable climate.

Ridley Scott matches Monahan’s script with thrilling visuals—action pieces include explosions and car chases—that are on par with his other contemporary war picture, 2001’s Black Hawk Down. The two of them have crafted a web of a tale that, on the surface, fuels the adrenalin-idled male. Yet, Body of Lies has place for soft spots, the biggest of which is a romantic interlude involving DiCaprio and an Arabic nurse.

Romancing aside, the most interesting aspect is something that is understated in the picture, but one that lingered with me well after the final credits. It’s the way two countries go about their business: the United States and Jordan.

When Roger Ferris is sent to Jordan, it is with the intent to lure a terrorist leader named Al-Saleem out of hiding. His plan involves playing to Al-Saleem’s ego; it is a cloak-and-dagger ruse of unwitting pawns made to look like deadly terrorists. The execution is ingenious, albeit flawed, because the parties involved are few. But the success hinges on the fact that the head of Jordanian intelligence, named Hani (Mark Strong), not find out.

Prior to hatching the plan, Ferris gets a culture shock as it pertains to acquiring information through violent means. Having already been an observer to CIA interrogations, in which the prisoner is beaten with clubs, Ferris sees similar treatment to a prisoner in Hani’s company. Sprawled across a tabletop, the man is whipped across the back repeatedly. Hani’s explanation is that the man had lied and that this was his repentance. This exchange of ideas is a dichotomy between allies.

Body of Lies is a technically sound feature that chooses not to be two hours of political posturing. Instead, the spy thriller is a practical look at the levels of deception that come into play in a land where you are either the infidel or the enemy and vice versa.


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