It’s pretty apparent that Hollywood wouldn’t mind if the War on Terror lasted one hundred years (hey, it’s the only figure we’ve been given to work with). The post-9/11 thriller factory is still working at full capacity, but Body of Lies emerges as more of a cautionary espionage tale than the usual dissection of the war in general. The film is far more concerned with who we’re trusting and why, rather than military strategy. Diplomacy may be outdated, but it’s the central theme.
Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Roger Ferris, a United States operative who has his sights set on Al-Saleem, the head of a Jordanian terrorist cell. Ferris hops from country to country in the Middle East searching for reliable intelligence and reports his findings to Ed Hoffman (Crowe), his boss who is rarely impressed with his results. After his partner is killed, Ferris finds himself in many ways at the mercy of Hani (Strong), the head of Jordanian intelligence. His methods may be suspect, but they may be Ferris’ only chance of locating Al-Saleem.
Scripted by William Monahan (and working from the novel by David Ignatius), Body of Lies is a largely talky affair punctuated by some impressive action sequences. Director Ridley Scott can still direct an action sequence with the best of him, but he should have reigned in Monahan’s spider web of a plot that even includes a rather empty romance between Ferris and a local Jordanian woman (Farahani). What the film does do well is address our nation’s foreign policy in non-military terms. Our relationships with foreign intelligence agencies and the figures surrounding them are largely ignored by the mainstream media, and Body of Lies never oversimplifies how crucial and complicated these affiliations are.
DiCaprio is superb as Ferris. He gets to play a true tough guy here, and he completely pulls it off. As one would expect from U.S. citizens acting as diplomats overseas, the role calls for a wide range dialects (DiCaprio’s Arabic is outstanding) and idiosyncrasies, and he is convincing on all fronts. Russell Crowe, by contrast, is surprisingly underused and never makes Hoffman a very interesting character. Basically, anyone could have played this part – something you rarely say about a Crowe performance. The supporting work by Mark Strong and Golshifteh Farahani is credible and engaging.
Body of Lies is certainly one of most well-crafted and intellectually engaging political thrillers to come along this year. The action-packed trailers will likely bring in a crowd expecting such, but the film is much more of a commentary on diplomacy and trust issues in the Middle East as the War on Terror chugs along. A few screenplay complaints prevent the film from being in the top-tier for this year, but Ridley Scott continues to be in top form with his project choices and execution.
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Length: 128 Minutes
Rating: R for strong violence including some torture, and for language throughout.
Theatrical Release: October 10, 2008
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: William Monahan. Based upon the novel by David Ignatius.
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Mark Strong, Golshifteh Farahani, Oscar Isaac, Ali Suliman