Body of Lies (2008)

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Released:  Friday, October 10, 2008  
Length:  128 minutes
Studio: Warner Bros.
Genre: Drama/Suspense
Rating: Body of Lies is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of AmericaUnder 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.


Synopsis

Body of Lies © Warner Bros.. All Rights Reserved.

The CIA’s hunt is on for the mastermind of a wave of terrorist attacks. Roger Ferris is the agency’s man on the ground, moving from place to place, scrambling to stay ahead of ever-shifting events. An eye in the sky – a satellite link – watches Ferris. At the other end of that real-time link is the CIA’s Ed Hoffman, strategizing events from thousands of miles away. And as Ferris nears the target, he discovers trust can be just as dangerous as it is necessary for survival.

Leonardo DiCaprio (as Ferris) and Russell Crowe (as Hoffman) star in Body of Lies, adapted by William Monahan (The Departed) from the David Ignatius novel. Ridley Scott (American Gangster, Black Hawk Down) directs this impactful tale, orchestrating exciting action sequences and plunging viewers into a bold spy thriller for our time.

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Body of Lies Theatrical Review


Body of Lies exists on a spectrum of political thrillers that extends from the complex (sometimes to the point of incomprehensible) Syriana, to the far more conventional 2001, Spy Game.  In fact, it owes a lot to the latter: there's a young CIA operative, Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his older, far more experienced and cynical controller, Ed Hoffman (played by Russell Crowe, who gained 63 pounds for the role). Seven years ago, it was Brad Pit and Robert Redford.

The target, of course, is Middle Eastern terrorism, a mastermind who is setting off explosions across Europe.  DiCaprio has to run him down while working with Jordanian intelligence.  No one should trust anyone, least of all Aisha (Golshifteh Farahani), a pretty nurse who becomes the love interest of Ferris. There are several twists and turns and a smattering of action mixed in with surprisingly a little political message.

I have heard it said that the bluntest of political movies "ask and answer a question". The next most sophisticated simply ask the question, and the most sophisticated simply present a situation and let people ask their own questions. I think with this movie, we are looking at "situation", but I couldn't come away with much by way of a question.  My observation was "these people are into some pretty dirty politics".

There aren't many heroes in Body of Lies, but there aren't too many villains either.  Sure, the terrorist is a villain -- and DiCaprio's, Ferris, often tries to do the right thing (but doesn't try too hard in several cases). Crowe's, Ed Hoffan, really never tries to do "the right thing"; but he's trying to catch a murderous terrorist...and he doesn't commit atrocities.  Jordanian Chief of Intelligence, Mark Strong, as Hani Salaam is a charismatic expert in his field -- but is he really a good guy?  He takes some awful chances with people he likes.

I believe for political thrillers that lean more towards the "political" end of the spectrum (as the Bourne movies lean towards the "thriller" end); we need more history and perspective in order to be really satisfied. Body of Lies doesn't impress the viewer with its command of spy craft.  It confirms what we suspected -- spies need to check a lot of conscience at the door. However, it doesn't surprise us with anything really new.

Ridley Scott is one of my favorite directors, and in Body of Lies he gives us action scenes with the proper (sometimes shocking) kinetics, aerial views of Morocco (which is posing as Jordan), giving   us that now-familiar Google-Earth feel, and a sense of foreign locations that had me fooled. The European scenes were all done in Washington DC! The movie doesn't hurt for his eye, but it did leave me suspecting that predator-drone surveillance may have done more for filmmakers who can now show crystal-clear overhead views without having to suspend disbelief than it did for real people fighting in real wars.

I also felt that the movie in a way glossed over some important issues that are crucial to this kind of experience.  It posits a terrorist movement that coordinates things perfectly without using technology so that it is "invisible" to us.  I would like to see how they think those messages get all over the world: do they have that many international couriers?  It gives us a meeting between a main character and a bad-guy that I think is supposed to be satisfying for the viewer, but I felt begged belief and realism to a strong degree.

The movie's heroes make some bizarre moves, e.g. sending emails from one source to another who will have no idea what to do with the emails he receives; and do not convince me that this was the only way to do it. While in the movie, the cool-cat leader of the Jordanian intelligence decries torture as inefficient and foolish, according to Human Rights Watch torture in Jordanian prisons is routine.

I'm not sure where politics of the people who made this movie lie -- and I'm not clear they've thought too much about it either.

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