I like most of Ridley Scott‘s work, I think he is one of the most versatile directors in Hollywood. His works have a wide range in sci-fi (Alien and Blade Runner), swords and sandals epics (Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven), war epics (Black Hawk Down), among others. However, it seems like he missed the mark in his latest outing. "Body of Lies" is a decent espionage thriller that has a very impressive cast, great direction, but has a script that is very similar to "Syriana" and "The Kingdom"--adapted from the novel by David Ignatius, the film isn't anything special.
Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio) is an undercover CIA agent, whose work takes him from Iraq to Jordan. His handler in Washington, Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe) has sent him to this country to establish cooperation with a man named Hani (Mark Strong), the head of the Jordanian Intelligence. Here, Ferris declares his intentions to hunt down the leader of a terrorist group named Al-Saleem and Hani readily offers his aid, in the condition that Ferris never withholds information from him. However, Hoffman is running his own operations behind Roger's back, that raises Hani's ire. Roger tries to mend Jordanian and American relationships, while he hatches a scheme to create a fictional terrorist to draw out their most wanted man and maybe regain Hani's confidence.
The direction by Scott is incredibly polished, he manages to generate a "feeling of change" to its many locations as Ferris moves around the middle East while setting a sense of scope into the film. Scott goes for the exposition by the numbers approach, as Ferris makes his efforts to maintain his cover as well as preserving his uprightness. The film has excellent production values and is technically sound. It comes as no surprise that Scott's direction does remain solid even with a rather faulty screenplay. The movie looks good and the actors look good, and I was quite impressed how Scott managed to keep Crowe's character significant despite his limited screen time.
Much of the film focuses on DiCaprio (he does pull off a strong performance, complete with facial hair and a fake southern accent), his dealings, his manipulations and attempts to stay one step ahead of the terrorists and the Jordanian intelligence itself. It also throws in a touch of sentimentality, when Roger meets a pretty Iranian doctor (Golshifteh Farahani) and develops a fondness with her. Roger tries to stay within his boundaries, but does what he can with his knowledge to his country's benefit. Basically, he doesn't want to cross Hani since his survival depends on him and his assets; but Roger does also know that what Hani doesn't know, wouldn't hurt him. Russell Crowe looks very different in this film. He gained weight for this role and he looks quite old and grumpy. Ed Hoffman is the kind of man who thinks America can do no wrong and should do anything to protect its security--but he is the type of guy who would stab his friend in the back so long as it is convenient for his needs.
The screenplay adapted by William Monaghan does have its faults. The Ferris-doctor friendship seemed like a mere attempt for a set up for the film's final act. The interaction between the Aisha and Roger characters carried very small significance and killed the film's pace. Also, some of the film's elements regarding the hunt for Al-Saleem was a little convoluted and while Scott does have to follow a plot based on disorder, differences and disagreements, he tries to cover up the convoluted screenplay by resorting to scenes of suicide bombings, firefights, explosions and some torture to keep the viewer awake and to cover up its lukewarm pace.
"Body of Lies" is your average espionage thriller, that looks really good with good performances who managed to keep it from mediocrity. It resorts to preaching when the script gets a little stuck, and does not offer anything really insightful on the war on terror. The film is just another Hollywood attempt to capitalize on current events, it does occasionally serve up some taut and suspenseful sequences, but it wasn‘t anything fresh and original. It is your usual movie with terrorism and espionage but it is not a profound look on the war on terrorism. Scott felt like he was struggling in the final act to give the film a sense of solidity and visceral punch. "Traitor" did a better job with similar undertones, "Body of Lies" just fires a lot of blanks in regards to its political dissertation. It's just a forgettable film with a concept that has been overdone.
Recommended with caution, Rent it first. [3 Out of 5 Stars]
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