The marketing and advertising for Body of Lies try to sell it as a face-off between two great actors, Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe. But the Hollywood match-up angle is simply its own lie, doing injustice to what is truthfully an intelligent, complicated, and subtle espionage story.
DiCaprio is a CIA operative named Roger Ferris, the man on the ground in the Middle East, slipping his way into dangerous situations to complete the mission.
Unfortunately for Ferris, the mission decisions are being made by Ed Hoffman (Crowe), a disconnected bureaucrat calling the shots from the other side of the ocean. He oversees operations from a comfortable desk chair or the sidelines of a little league soccer game, while Ferris dodges RPGs and chases down extremists. Crowe even gained 50 lbs. for the role in order to preserve the image that he’s lazy or out of practice. Meanwhile, Leo learned some Arabic and delivers the convincing dialect from behind his neatly groomed goatee.
Hoffman claims that “no one is innocent,” quickly moving on from a lost informant by reminding Ferris “we are at war.” It bears resemblance to the rhetoric of Al-Saleem, the prime terrorist suspect proclaiming they’ll do “whatever it takes” to crush their enemies. The juxtaposition makes a subtle inference that American officials masterminding the conflict from the East coast have the same disregard for human life as the jihadists in the East sending in suicide bombers. It’s a bold statement in a post-9/11 film, probably driven by the mistrust of the current political powers.
But talented director Ridley Scott and Oscar-winning writer William Monahan don’t use the film as a medium for an overtly political agenda. I just wish I knew what they were truly trying to accomplish instead.
The two hour film glides around the desert from one Google Earth image to the next setting up potential riveting plot lines before folding them into thrill-ride explosions and unconvincing love stories. The first act could have been completely erased and it would have only slightly affected the character development for the second half, where the real spy games begin.
The CIA partners with Jordanian intelligence chief Hani (Mark Strong), a snappy-dressed, cold-blooded official who has no patience for the cowboy antics of Hoffman, but respects Ferris for his street smarts and cultural sensitivity. Hani regularly comes to the aid of Ferris, who sometimes has to go it alone rather than trust the tech-happy suits in Langley.
Ferris sets up a fake rival terrorist cell to flush out Al-Saleem, but this juicy episode of intriguing spy tactics is abandoned for a romantic subplot with a Jordanian nurse. While there are decent stories buried in the fragmented script, the movie doesn’t develop any of them to completion, leaving the characters hanging without a planned exit strategy.
Body of Lies is a relatively good spy thriller that will hold the attention of an audience, but is a disappointing B-list creation from an A-list crew.
3.5 out of 5.