Body of Lies
2008, R, 129 min. Directed by Ridley Scott. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Mark Strong, Golshifteh Farahani, Oscar Isaac, Ali Suliman, Alon Aboutboul, Simon McBurney.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Oct. 10, 2008
DiCaprio and Crowe make for interesting friends and foils in Scott's new geopolitical thriller. They represent the polar extremes of the types of operatives running the plays in today's counterassault on global terrorism. DiCaprio plays Roger Ferris, a lone CIA operative on the ground in the Middle East who ferrets out intelligence that he hopes will lead to big fish Al-Saleem (Aboutboul), an Osama bin Laden-like figure whose jihadist group has claimed responsibility for most of the world's most recent terrorist bombings. Ferris speaks the local language and strives to blend in, yet he also puts his body on the line with a physicality that almost borders on masochism. (The brutish torture he undergoes at one point is almost unendurable to watch.) His movements on the ground are meanwhile observed in real time through an array of modern media devices by his handler, Ed Hoffman (Crowe). Overhead images from aerial drones track Ferris on his missions with a precision that makes us not only marvel at the sophistication of American technology but also wonder how, despite the advantage of all this technical wizardry, Americans could possibly lose any battle they waged. Crowe, who put on lots of extra poundage for this role, plays Hoffman as a paunchy company man who conducts the war on terrorism from the comfort of his living room. Always watching Ferris on some TV screen and monitoring his actions through constant cell-phone contact, Hoffman issues orders while simultaneously potty training his kids or dropping them off at school. The contrasts between the two men could not be more pronounced, yet they share a collegial friendship and the belief that everyone is expendable – that is until Ferris develops a love connection with a woman (Farahani) in Jordan. This love story seems totally grafted onto an otherwise taut story (scripted by William Monahan from a novel by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius). It's a trite motivational device that seems out of place here. Black Hawk Down director Scott again demonstrates his expertise at mounting a topical thriller and also his impressive command of spatial relationships and structures, an ability already on display in such early films as Alien and Blade Runner. DiCaprio and Crowe, who both deliver excellent performances, may nevertheless be overshadowed by the outstanding turn by British actor Strong as the impeccably tailored and exacting Jordanian head of security, Hani Salaam. Despite the terrific acting and storytelling skills evident here, Body of Lies remains strangely emotionless. There's little offered in the form of rooting interests or compassionate characterizations, making the film ultimately as ephemeral as its title.