Movie Review: Body of Lies

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An American CIA agent on the ground in Jordan struggles to uncover intelligence while balancing the CIA and Jordan intelligence.

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Ridley Scott, 2008

Body of Lies follows two CIA agents with very different perspectives on the intelligence game. Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio) works in the Middle East, trying to protect his cover while he gathers intelligence and makes contacts. Meanwhile, in America, Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe) coordinates operations using his ever-present blutooth headset. The distance makes Hoffman callous, while Ferris struggles to protect his allies on the ground, including family man Bassam (Oscar Isaac). After an operation in Iraq leaves Ferris injured, Hoffman has him transferred to Jordan, where he receives a frosty reception from local intelligence and the CIA agents stationed there. He meets and falls for a local nurse, endangering her as he attempts to put together a delicate operation. The operation is compromised by Hoffman’s tendency towards deception, as well as the fact that he’s working under the nose of Hani (Mark Strong), the urbane head of Jordanian intelligence.

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The thing about Body of Lies is that it’s not memorable. Nothing about Body of Lies feels remotely fresh or new, from the plot to the aesthetic to the title. It’s the kind of movie you see and then forget about, mixing it up with some other movie with a similar name, or imagining the actors in other similar roles. The only actor who really stands out in this film is Mark Strong, whose whitewashed role is, nevertheless, by far the most interesting of the film. Strong has a tendency to play pretty tough bad guys, so even just seeing him in Hani’s expensive, slightly outdated suits with silver at his temples and gold accessories is a shock to the system. He easily steals every scene he’s in from much more famous actors, expressing more menace in a soft-spoken word than the score manages in the whole film. Leonardo DiCaprio is fine, but he feels like he’s playing catch-up with an average script, frowning his way through too many scenes to really be appealing. Crowe’s character isn’t given quite enough time to be really interesting, coming off instead as pretty much just an obnoxious dick. There are some good scenes between DiCaprio and Crowe, but when they don’t have each other to play off they’re less effective. Oscar Isaac gets very little screentime, but he’s sweet and likeable as Ferris’s Iraqi (hah) sidekick. Plus his hair looks great.

Body of Lies feels unfocused, directionless and messy. There’s a subplot about bombings in England that directly affects the action, but feels so distant from anything our characters are doing that every cut to another bombing is jarring. There are definitely some interesting ideas in here – watching Crowe casually directing Ferris to allow his contacts to be murdered while dropping his kids off to school is jarring and horrific. The film is at its best when it investigates the differences between life in the Middle East and America, and there’s a nice message about how valuable the culture and people of Jordan are. The action scenes are shot surprisingly poorly for a Ridley Scott film, though, and it can be frustratingly dense for a film that thinks it’s intelligent. It veers between too obvious – Ferris’s dinner with girlfriend Aisha’s family – and too subtle; there are times when it’s not at all clear who Ferris is with, because half the people on both sides are white dudes with dark hair, and few of them have names. Ultimately it’s muddled and forgettable.

Body of Lies on IMDb

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