Body of Lies

Movies Reviews Ridley Scott
Body of Lies

Release Date: Oct. 10
Director: Ridley Scott
Writer: William Monahan
Cinematographer: Alexander Witt
Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Mark Strong, Golshifteh Farahani
Studio/Run Time: ?Warner Bros., 128 min.

Didactic, ripped-from-the-headlines thriller offers brisk entertainment, nothing more

Near the beginning of Ridley Scott’s topical thriller Body of Lies, CIA bigwig Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe) says the question of whether the United States belongs in Iraq or not is irrelevant. We are there already, and what’s done is done. Even so, it is that very question the film seems hell-bent on answering.

Body of Lies is a film about important subject matter, but not an important film in itself. Adapted from the novel by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Roger Ferris, an upstart Arabic-speaking CIA operative following the trail of terrorist maleficent Al-Saleem (Alon Abutbul) and his band of Islamic militants. Hoffman is his boss who brazenly micro-manages from the comfort of his own home (or from his daughter’s soccer game). Their working relationship is, of course, built on distrust and half-truths.

Al-Saleem’s trail leads to a terrorist “safe house” in the heart of Jordan’s capital city, Amman. There, Ferris forms a tenuous relationship with Hani Salaam, the dapperly-dressed chief of Jordanian intelligence (terrifically played by Mark Strong). Hani agrees to help Ferris capture Al-Saleem provided he “never lie to him.”

In the so-called reality of Body of Lies, Hoffman and Hani are both stock characters meant to represent the way the American government is, and the way it should be. If Hoffman is the manifestation of the arrogance and lack of foresight thought to predate Washington D.C., Hani is his opposite: patient, cooperative and forgiving, but in many ways just as forceful. DiCaprio’s Ferris is caught between trusting two conflicting ideologies.

While parts of the film resonate (particularly the starkly visceral terrorist bombings of European cities), it inevitably collapses under the weight of its own deceit as it progresses toward its gruesome and decidedly heavy-handed climax. As a rudimentary thriller, it is passable entertainment, aided by star wattage and a perspicuous plot. But given the seemingly sempiternal nature of America’s involvement in the Middle East, Hollywood has to eventually produce an Iraq-themed film that’s entertaining and intelligent. Based on the merit of Body of Lies alone, those qualities seem to be mutually exclusive.

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