Rendition. Redacted. The Kingdom. In the Valley of Elah. Lions for Lambs. Theyíre all movies about the war on terror that nobody has wanted to see. Youíll be able to add Body of Lies to that list, even though itís probably the most worthwhile and least preachy of the bunch.
The pieces would all seem to be in place for a compelling take on this complex topic: strong work from Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio; an intricate script from William Monahan (an Academy Award winner for The Departed), and the virtuoso visual styling of director Ridley Scott.
It looks great as it bounces breathlessly between Iraq and Jordan, Qatar and the Netherlands, Dubai and the Virginia suburbs. Scott seamlessly blends footage shot by overhead drones with paranoid sequences from the cramped streets below. Yet the result, with its many explosions and shootouts, too often feels like a generic action picture. Itís as if Scott & Co felt they needed to make the material palatable to the widest possible audience by turning it into a familiar genre picture, rather than sticking to their guns and making Syriana.
Based on the novel by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, Body of Lies follows undercover CIA operative Roger Ferris (Di-Caprio), whoís trying to ferret out the mastermind behind a series of anonymous bombings around the world. At the same time, Ferrisí boss, Ed Hoffman (Crowe), is running surveillance and plotting strategy from home in the United States with the help of his everpresent cell-phone headset and laptop.
Despite their shared goals and mutual dependence, Ferris and Hoffman often end up miscommunicating and undermining each other. This becomes especially true when Ferris tries to chat up the smooth Jordanian intelligence chief Hani (Mark Strong, who nearly steals the movie), a man who holds Hoffman in disdain and has been reluctant to aid in the CIAís efforts. Hani is impeccably dressed and respectful, but that classy demeanor only makes his dark side more frightening.
Somehow, with all his copious free time, Ferris manages to romance Aisha (Golshifteh Farahani), a soft-spoken nurse who treats his wounds when he gets particularly banged up during a chase in Amman. Itís obvious the relationship is a device meant to reveal whatever glimmers of humanity Ferris may have left in this deadly world, but it feels distractingly wedged-in. Itís also a way to inject a rare female figure, but her presence seems like something out of an old-fashioned war movie, so you know itís only a matter of time before she winds up in some sort of contrived danger and in need of rescue.
Far more intriguing is the relationship between Ferris and Hoffman. Itís a joy to watch DiCaprio and Crowe verbally sparring, even though they infrequently share the same space; most of their charactersí communication takes place over the phone.
Each thinks that what heís doing is the right course for the greater good. But when you break down Body of Lies to its elements, itís really about disagreeing with your boss. Hoffman gives Ferris an assignment, Ferris carries it out how he sees fit, they clash, then they start all over again. Itís Office Space with more carnage. Maybe this topic is relatable after all.
Body of Lies is rated R for strong violence including torture and language.
Running time: 128 minutes