Body of Lies (2008) / Thriller-Drama
MPAA Rated: R for strong violence, torture, and language
Running time: 128 min.
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Mark Strong, Golshifteh Farahani, Oscar Isaac, Ali Suliman, Alon Aboutboul, Vince Colosmo, Simon McBurney
Director: Ridley Scott
Screenplay: William Monahan (based on the novel by David Ignatius)
Review published May 31, 2011
Based on Washington Post columnist David Ignatius's novel, Ridley Scott (American Gangster, Matchstick Men) directs the William Monahan adapted script following a Middle East-based CIA operative named Roger Ferris (DiCaprio, Blood Diamond), whose latest mission is to track down the nefarious and reclusive head of a major terrorist organization (Aboutboul, Rambo III) before he makes good on his plans to kill more people in Europe and America. His superior back home is a man named Ed Hoffman (Crowe, 3:10 to Yuma), who isn't always filling Roger in on the full details of his mission, and sometimes seems like he's trying to undermine him for an agenda at odd with his own.
As is oft the case with political thrillers involving covert espionage, the plot can be tricky to follow, especially for those who aren't as aware with the history of the region and the interests of the varying countries in play. But the personal relationships -- the dynamic between characters -- should be relatively easy to follow for most who endeavor through this thriller, and will likely find it a rewarding, and even exciting at times, viewing. About halfway through the film, the plotline takes a detour, and what was once routine information gathering becomes a proactive attempt to "smoke out" a dangerous terrorist through a risky gambit on the part of Ferris. It's farfetched, but not completely unreasonable, and the results, while not entirely surprising, do play out in a manner that keeps the film from sinking into the dreaded realm (for a "real-world politics" film anyway) of implausibility.
Scott's direction is as assured as it usually is -- not flashy, but fluid, and simple when it needs to be from a storytelling standpoint. There is a burgeoning love story between Roger and an Irani-born Jordanian nurse (Farahani, About Elly) in the midsection of the film that some people might find a bit of a tell, but these scenes of flirtations do flesh out the plot to engage a personal interest in the story beyond just the politics. The same is also true of the strained conversations between the tense Ferris and semi-conniving Hoffman, with exceptionally good turns given by DiCaprio and frequent Ridley Scott thespian Crowe (who reportedly gained over 50 lbs. for the role), who are mostly not on the screen together, conversing through cell phones intermittently. It's interesting to note how Ferris agonizes over his mission's collateral damage while Hoffman, far removed from the theater of war, makes decisions purely out of politics and strategy.
Mark Strong (Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Stardust) is a surprising choice to play a Jordanian ally, but it proves to be one of his most charismatic and memorable characters to date. Monahan's (The Departed, Kingdom of Heaven) screenplay is full of subtle wit and understated character touches which does humanize the characters enough to care when they get into sticky situations down the road. The use of technology is spotty, opting for eye candy graphics and James Bond-ian implementation more so than what actually exists in the world of 2008, but for the good of the whole, it's easy to allow for some creative license to Scott.
Although it is a fictional film that plays out in a simulation of real world geopolitics, that also means there is some heady commentary, particularly in the confusion that naturally comes in to play when a country as technologically advanced as the United States tries to find information from people who are accustomed to hiding who they are and what they believe "off the grid". Is there much truth behind the fiction? Not my place to say, other than to state that it feels authentic (excellent Middle Eastern locale work, shot in great part in Morocco, helps immensely), which makes every explosion all the more exciting or tragic, and it does make for some interesting conversation as to just how difficult it is to make any sense at all when so many big characters on the scene have conflicted loyalties and ulterior motives. It spins a gripping yarn.
©2011 Vince Leo