Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

2008 has turned into the year of the Middle Eastern political thriller starting out with Jamie Foxx’s ‘The Kingdom’, followed by Don Cheadle’s film ‘Traitor’ and hot off the heels of ‘Traitor’ comes ‘Body of Lies’ starring Hollywood heavyweights Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe and directed by no less an A-list auteur than Ridley Scott. Though all three of those films, at least in my opinion, have been very good, I don’t think any of them have come to enjoy the success of the similar themed ‘The Bourne Ultimatum’ as audiences haven’t supported these films en masse as they supported Jason Bourne. But today we’re talking about ‘Body of Lies’, certainly the most technical of those previous movies where DiCaprio plays a spy who probably should come in from the cold, even though he has no interest in doing so.

The war against terror is a tireless one as deep cover CIA operative Roger Ferris (DiCaprio) has learned a long time ago. It’s also an inequitable one as Ferris makes deals with certain insurgents for vital information, only to find out whatever deal he has made has been rebuked by his boss back in D.C., Ed Hoffman (Crowe), which also gives us an early indication of how ruthless Ferris can be as he has to kill former informants on occasion to protect his position.

What Agent Ferris’ main goal is as of today, as he has taken up residence in the country of Jordan, is to somehow flush out this particular realities version of Osama Bin Laden, a terrorist leader named Al-Saleem (Alon Aboutboul). To complete this daunting task Ferris will need to curry favor with the Jordanian Security Minister Hani Salaam (Mark Strong). Behind his two thousand dollar suits and three hundred dollar cigars, Hani Salaam is an opposing figure who has advised Ferris that he would help him in this task providing he never breaks his one rule, which is ‘Never Lie to Me’. Hani is no fool and knowing full well that Roger Ferris is a spy, he is probably aware that simply by existing, Ferris is probably lying to him on some level or another.

The problem is that everyone seems to have a different agenda in attaining what appears to be the same goal. Agent Ferris objectives clash with his boss Hoffman who seems to undercut him every step of the way, while both are being double dealt in someway by Hani Salaam. To complicate matters, Ferris runs out and gets himself a local girlfriend in nurse Aisha (Golshifteh Farhani), who might be as cute as a button, but I’m thinking a deep cover superspy, who’s searching for the Worlds Most Dangerous Man, one who also doesn’t think twice before yanking out his gun out and opening fire into the crowded streets of Jordan probably shouldn’t be falling in love with the locals no matter how cute they are. Can you say ‘plot device’? But sometimes the best laid plans often go awry as Agent Ferris will soon find out as the hunter has become the hunted, the captured, and the tortured, and is about to become the ‘You Tubed’. Like the tagline says: Trust No One.

‘Body of Lies’ is a very, very busy movie. In the films two hour or so running time there is a lot of stuff going on and a lot of information to process which at times bogs the movie down as it delivers a primer on Middle Eastern politics, in addition to the myriad of characters, various plot elements as well as the often branching narrative. I’d be lying to you if I told you I was able to completely follow it all, with there being the occasional time I’d be sitting in the theater looking at the screen wondering ‘what in the hell is going on?’ Fortunately Ridley Scott is one heckuva of a veteran film director who must of, at times, realized this and would cleverly insert a shootout, or a car chase, or a foot race ending in some kind of brutal death to get us all back on the same page. Cool, he just killed that character that I think was somehow involved in something that I didn’t understand. Now we don’t have to think about him anymore. Outstanding. It is because of these occasional sudden bursts of action sequences and violent scenes, in addition to a typically strong performance from Leonardo DiCaprio and an award winning turn from Mark Strong, that keep ‘Body of Lies’ from becoming tedious and tiresome, despite the often complex and confusing story lines.

Russell Crowe’s performance in this movie was a curious one as to me it looked like he was doing his best to channel Beau Bridges, considering he gained a bunch of weight to play the role of detached CIA handler Ed Hoffman. I don’t think that Russell Crowe is capable of delivering a poor performance, but there wasn’t anything particularly noteworthy about his performance that you would come to expect from a movie starring Russell Crowe, particularly when that movie is directed by Ridley Scott. As a matter of fact the producers probably could’ve just gone out and gotten Beau Bridges for the role of Ed Hoffman and saved about ten million dollars. And though actress Golshifteh Farhani did a fine job with what she was asked to do in this movie, her character was seemed to be merely inserted as a plot furthering device and served little or no service to actual narrative.

Where ‘The Kingdom’ was an action film and ‘Traitor’ was more of a political intrigue thriller, ‘Body of Lies’ attempts to straddle the line and be both. It fails in that attempt more than it succeeds but it was still well worth watching for what it did do well, and for the strong performances of Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Strong.

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