Narrative Review Body of Lies Directed by: Ridley Scott Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Mark Strong Time: 2 hrs Rating: R
Our business in Iraq has always been a tough sell, even before our vain attempts to make movies about it. Hollywood has interpreted our presence in the Middle East in many ways, but few films were able to put up "Mission Accomplished" banners. Audiences didn’t care for the wimpy meow of Lions For Lambs; the controversial soldier re-enlistment film Stop-Loss (released to an audience that was MIA); and gung-ho disasters like The Kingdom, which were too busy with glorified violence to treat its mature themes seriously. An adaptation of the novel by the same name, Body of Lies explodes into multiplexes and speaks the truth about the volcanic potential within such hot-topic films. This political action-thriller confirms that it’s possible for a flick to pack a message as tough as its punch, all while offering a unanimous, nonpartisan source of intelligent, gripping entertainment.
The film's political points are sharpest in the beginning. Russell Crowe, as big-boned CIA operative Ed Hoffman, delivers a monologue concerning our presence in the Middle East, debating whether a reason to defend our work over there is even necessary. Throughout his speech, (which doubles as a visual introduction of his intelligence partner in Iraq, Roger Ferris, played by Leonardo DiCaprio), Hoffman argues for the sake of surveillance to fight terrorism by saying: “we must keep our foot on the enemy’s foot, or the world will change completely.” Body of Lies is a story about the toes that are stepped on in the process to keep such an imperative balance.
The Osama Bin Laden-like head terrorist Al-Saleem (Alon Aboutboul) is the predominant voice of radical Muslims worldwide, and the organizer of recent malicious bombings in the United Kingdom. He’s now the elusive mouse to hunting cats Hoffman, Ferris, and the self-proclaimed king of Jordanian intelligence, Hani Salaam (Mark Strong). Utilizing dirty tactics such as manipulation and deception, the three of them butt heads and sacrifice established levels of trust in order to obtain intelligence that will hopefully lead to Al-Saleem's capture. The plot feels like a modern socio-political daydream, wistfully hoping to be duplicated by reality.
Leo DiCaprio is still tiny, but he has the same beastly roar that he brought to The Departed. Similar to his character in Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece, Ferris is the whipping boy in the film’s race for intelligence. While Hoffman is in America, Ferris is being shot at, blown up, and even mauled by dogs. But with each beating, so stirs the actor, ticking like a bomb, bubbling to a frantic eruption delivered by one of DiCaprio’s most intense performances yet.
The character, Ed Hoffman, is a very hands-on ringleader. A chuckle-inducing form of comic relief in the film, he is hundreds of thousands of miles away from the operations he puppeteers, directing his work while doing fatherly tasks such as dropping his off his kids at school. A homegrown American that is noticeably relaxed, the film uses his removal from reality to wonderfully contrast the chaos “out there” and the stateside lack of tangibility we have on such pandemonium. Body of Lies argues that while Hoffman may have more intelligence or control than Ferris, he is truly clueless regarding the mad world that his partner is diving into headfirst.
Pulsating and ruthlessly engrossing, this is one of the best movies in several years from director Ridley Scott. With certain films like Black Hawk Down, Scott has demonstrated a distinctive skill for using the tangibility of brutal violence to accentuate his films’ impact. Action scenes in a Ridley Scott film are always fitfully visceral, grotesque, but far from fantastical. The terrorist bombings (there are two) are incredibly realistic, and thus extremely disturbing. Like much of Body of Lies, the film’s death and destruction are highly resonant, even after theatre lights are turned back on. And while the film isn’t a credit to his eye for editing (a distinctively sloppy job here), it is a rousing rise from the mediocre ashes that were the odd, villain worshipping American Gangster .
Ridley Scott’s fiery film would not be as explosive without William Monahan’s excellent screenplay, which in this metaphor, doubles as several barrels of highly flammable gasoline. Body of Lies is an incredibly busy story, hopping back and forth between international locations, managing a heavy list of complex characters. Like with his Oscar-winning screenplay for The Departed, Monahan proves a beautiful awareness of the magnetism behind a story’s genuine twists and turns. Once again, he demonstrates an excellent management of such intricate plot threads and never allows them to knot or run short. He’s arguably one of the most cohesive writers in the business today.
Body of Lies is a fantastic punch in the face, with or without its timely political relevance. Neatly packed throughout the moments of action-thriller greatness are bold messages concerning the war on terror and our mission in Iraq. But for those nauseated by recent flicks that preach (myself included), the film offers the unusual alternative of being remembered out of context, simply as a quality Hollywood experience. It is exhilarating action-thriller escapism, but with jaw-dropping explosions and acts of gruesome violence that refuse to let either sides of its audience completely deny war's brutal reality. No matter which lens you view it through, the film’s true priority is to tell an enthralling story with a high level of intelligence.
The message within the film is optional; the story’s fluidity and excitement is not. Body of Lies is a great film - a rare, non-polarizing one that can speak-out with others or can certainly choose to stand on its own.
Final Score: 8/10