REVIEW: Body of Lies [2008]

“And that means you work for us”

The new Ridley Scott film has come upon us, the drama/thriller Body of Lies. I remember a time when Scott’s movies were must-sees, way back when. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been the same of late with me having no interest in Hannibal, finding Gladiator and Black Hawk Down to be grossly overrated if not just good, and his latest American Gangster dragged along. Besides Kingdom of Heaven, which is a fantastic piece of work if you give it a chance, nothing has really hit me too strongly. I can’t say that this one does anything to change that perception. While better than I expected, there really isn’t anything new or surprising here. You’ve got your CIA agents on the lookout for an Arab terrorist, one on the ground who experiences the war everyday and the other back in the states delegating and making decisions for the global sphere and not worrying about collateral damage at all. Not only that, but you also get the secondary story of our lead putting himself on the line risking his life not knowing if he will be extracted or left to die. If that sounds familiar, you may be thinking of a movie called Spy Game … that exact story done better by Tony Scott, Ridley’s brother. Now there is a Scott who’s films are still highly anticipated each year.

Trust plays a major role in the proceedings on whether we as Americans can rely on a nation like Jordan to help our cause. The young upstart on the ground, Leonardo DiCaprio’s Roger Ferris, believes that he can and tries to keep an open relationship with the head of the secret service there, Hani, (the always creepy villain type Mark Strong in a role that allows him to be human, if not still a bit intimidating). No matter how much these two like each other, though, means nothing as long as Ferris’ boss is pulling the strings. Russell Crowe’s Ed Hoffman is the eye in the sky watching everything going on around the world involving CIA operatives. He makes life and death decisions without emotion while putting his children in the car and dropping them off at school. He has the cold-hearted detachment necessary in war to make the tough call and still be able to sleep at night. War is no longer led by the men in the trenches, watching the opposition die by their own hands; instead it is the overweight politically intelligent men moving the pawns around into the correct position. If one soldier dies, you replace him with another, no emotions can show.

Everyone plays their roles effectively and help drive the film to its conclusion. It spans multiple locales and at a breakneck speed that can at times disorient you as a viewer, but for the most part runs smoothly. DiCaprio builds on his already extensive filmography of exotic venues and warzone subject matter as he travels between Middle Eastern nations and the US while mistakes are made and new missions conceived. The dynamic between him and Crowe is electric as they play off each other with mutual respect as well as the knowledge of how they are from different generations of the job. Crowe is methodical and ruthless while DiCaprio makes connections and relationships to hopefully lead into reliable intel and successful results. However, while the two give each other ideas and smart maneuvers, Crowe will not back down from his assertive stance and if he must continue on while leaving his man in the dark he will, no matter what that means for his best agent.

Now the trailer really misleads you into thinking that at some point these two will stand on opposite ends of the spectrum and work against each other. That never happens. Crowe’s Hoffman really only comes and goes as a Big Brother type, not really playing a massive role in the plot. The main source of story comes from DiCaprio’s Ferris as he develops roots and friendships in Jordan and attempts to earn the trust of Hani so that they can create a strong intellectual bond to help disrupt terrorists in the area. Ferris and Hani’s comings and goings are what matter and the lies that they keep are the reason for the title. The one thing Hani asks is that he not be lied to, that is the one condition for which his helps hinges on. The manipulations of Hoffman lead Ferris into heading an operation outside of Jordan connections. Once his short exile from the country ends and Hani invites him back, Ferris must decide whether to disclose what is going on or not. This is the main decision that leads into the third act of the film and what makes it interesting, building on the exposition of characters developed in the first two-thirds.

It all entertains and enthralls like any good thriller should, but in the end, besides the acting, there is nothing worth talking about. Whether the novel it is based on is better or worse, the film version becomes a tale of espionage and disparate attitudes to the ongoing topic of how information should be delegated to friendly Arab nations. It can be seen as a comment on the war, as anything made today can, but ultimately it’s just a piece of entertainment, hoping to expose the underbelly of deceit and backdoor deals going on in the US government. It’s nothing new; we all know the stories. I’ll wait for Ridley’s brother’s The Taking of Pelham 123, because even though it’s a remake, Tony’s penchant for style and flair just excites me more.

Body of Lies 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

[1] RUSSELL CROWE as Ed Hoffman and LEONARDO DICAPRIO as Roger Ferris in Warner Bros. Pictures’ suspense thriller “Body of Lies.” Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
[2] MARK STRONG as Hani and LEONARDO DICAPRIO as Roger Ferris in Warner Bros. Pictures’ suspense thriller “Body of Lies.” Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.