Movie Review: Body of Lies (2008)

Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio in Body of Lies
Photo: Warner Bros.

Body of Lies, as purely entertainment, is a lot of fun. It has plenty of action, some great performances and as always, director Ridley Scott delivers a beautiful film that is technically more evolved than the majority of its counterparts. The film’s storyline and its proximity to Iraq may cause some viewers to shy away, as it primarily focuses on the war on terror and striking a balance between the boys in the comfy seats back home and the men on the ground doing the dirty work. Overly sensitive moviegoers may not enjoy it for its grittier elements including a torture scene near the end that leaves several possibilities for an ending up in the air, but there is enough spy gadgetry and clandestine eye-in-the-sky coolness to remind you that you are watching a Hollywood movie and not real life.

Reading reviews and plot descriptions of the David Ignatius novel of which the film is based on proves screenwriter William Monahan did indeed cut, tweak and edit much of the story so it would fit into a two hour feature film. It seems his efforts may have resulted in cutting much of the more poignant and thought provoking elements of the story while saving room for some clever dialogue and well timed action sequences. The film centers on Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio) a CIA operative on the ground in the Middle East as he becomes station chief in Jordan where much of the film takes place. The goal is to flush out known terrorist Al-Saleem with the help of Jordan intelligence under the watchful eye of CIA big dog Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe) calling the shots from back home. Hoffman is often seen cozy in a chair and at one point making moves while attending his daughter’s soccer game. These scenes provide an obvious contrast between Hoffman’s at-home ignorance and the on-the-ground-and-in-the-shit-survival-mode Ferris is stuck in.

DiCaprio once again proves he can pull off most any role. He isn’t spectacular, but he is by no means a hindrance. To be honest there is very little to Ferris as a character outside of a frank realization of the situation he is in and his recognition of the losing and ignorant effort he is fighting for. This doesn’t make him a bad character; it makes him a passable character you are comfortable with and not a whole lot more. Crowe, on the other hand, packed on approximately 50 pounds for the role of Ed Hoffman and if the goal was to play the guy as a big dull dullard with a pushy attitude then I would say mission accomplished. He’s an everyman, concerned with only the life in front of him. In the lives of most this would be just fine, but he is a man with his finger on the trigger with several lives on the other side of the gun, which makes him the ass hole of the bunch. He is a man waving the American flag saying we are better than you and not everyone is falling for it.

From the Jordan perspective we have Mark Strong as Hani Salaam, head of the Jordanian General Intelligence Department (GID). The relationship between Ferris and Salaam is where the film finds its tension. Hani has a lack of trust for American operatives and tells Ferris, “Never lie to me.” The title originates from this one rule and implies you never know who to trust. What could be a diversion and what could be the truth becomes the central plotline as a fake terrorist cell is devised in an effort to insult the understated ego of Al-Saleem forcing him to come out of hiding. Ferris and Hani manage to find a manageable coexistence, but that doesn’t mean either of them are ever on the same page.

The premise is interesting, although weak if looked at through a microscope. However, the action sequences (one helicopter chase in particular) and solid acting were enough for me to take a lot of enjoyment out of this film. It has the political intrigue of The Kingdom, the flash of Enemy of the State and visual realism of Black Hawk Down. If you are looking at Body of Lies for any real message you’re wasting your time, but as pure entertainment it can be a lot of fun.