Movie Review for Body of Lies (2008)

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Review #704 of 365
Movie Review of Body of Lies (2008) [R] 128 minutes
WIP™ Scale: $13.00
Where Viewed: Regal Cinemas Continental 10, Denver, CO
When Seen: 10 October 2008 @ 7:30 pm
DVD Release Date: Unscheduled (please check back)
After the Credits: There is nothing
Unsung Member of the Crew: Head Make-Up Artist – Don Kozma

Soundtrack: Download now from Marc Streitenfeld - Body of Lies (Original Motion Picture Score) - or - order the CD below

Directed by: Ridley Scott (American Gangster)
Screenplay by: William Monahan (The Departed) based on the novel Body of Lies by David Ignatius

Featured Cast (Where You Might Remember Him/Her From):
Leonardo DiCaprio (Blood Diamond) • Russell Crowe (American Gangster) • Mark Strong (Babylon A.D.) • Golshifteh Farahani (Santoori) • Oscar Isaac (The Nativity Story) • Ali Suliman (The Kingdom) • Alon Abutbul (Noodle)

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Director Ridley Scott and screenwriter William Monahan serve up their take on David Ignatius's CIA takes on terrorists tale, Body of Lies. Once again, yours truly, knows nothing about the book, so this review is unfettered by that relationship and all criticism is therefore leveled entirely at the film adaptation. From the spoiler, you may be able to glean variation between the book and screenplay if any.

The story which is really sort of two movies in one, follows the interactions between Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his superior Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe) as they two uncover various terrorist cells throughout the world—mostly in the Middle East. Part 1 of the story involves Ferris getting close to the director of security and intelligence of Jordan, a man he calls Hani (Mark Strong). The purpose, as he's been assigned by Hoffman to take over the CIA ops there in Amman, is to seek out intel and eventually eliminate a safe house located in the city. Of course, no action can be taken effectively without the help of the Jordanian secret service under Hani's command. Ferris does an excellent job of establishing this new relationship and running the operation, but Hoffman fails to listen to him and keeps intervening in inappropriate ways. One such intervention ends up costing Ferris hunks of flesh from his legs paid to potentially rabid wild dogs in an alleyway. On the brighter side, this rendezvous leads him to a favorable encounter with a local nurse, Aisha (Golshifteh Farahani) with whom he subsequently falls in love as his divorce back home in the states falls into decay and divorce. The 'screw up' unfortunately cost the CIA far more, because it leads to the terrorist leader, Al-Saleem (Alon Abutbul), shutting the place down in a fiery inferno, and Ferris losing his operation.

Part 2 of the story then involves a brilliant brain-storming session back in the states between Ferris and Hoffman where Ferris suggests that rather than working so hard to try to find the terrorist leaders, there ought to be a way to get them to make themselves known. His plot is to create a fake terrorist group, endow it with funds and disciples, and ultimately commit a brave fake attack that would create friends and allies, and eventually entice other leaders to attempt contact with this bold new organization. To make it work, they must utilize covert operations and the skills of Garland (Simon McBurney) who can basically make anything happen over the Internet using his bank of lap top computers in his quaint home in some rural area near Langley, VA. This plan, of course, has some problems. First, they cannot let anyone else know about it for it to work. Second, Hani will have to be kept in the dark. Finally, innocent people will have to be caught in the middle. They set up an architect named Omar Sadiki (Ali Suliman) as their fake leader and the members of his study group as his loyalists. They use subterfuge to get him to go places and meet people that are known low-level terrorist cell members or lawyers who do business with them, and they circulate all this information. Then, they stage the attack on an American military base blowing up an abandoned barracks with unclaimed bodies from the morgue inside. All of the pieces fall right into place, except one. They don't account for the capture of Omar Sadiki who has figured out that Roger Ferris has been the one who set him up, and Roger forgets that he's vulnerable due to his relationship with Aisha. [see spoiler for details of the ending].

Known for his tough talk action thrillers, Ridley Scott does not disappoint with Body of Lies. This is a powerful introduction to a side of the war on terror, however little may or may not be accurate, than most people have seen. Meanwhile, the story is as scary as can be when it comes to understanding the potential fragility of civilized society. The ultimate moral of the story comes through loud and clear, however, and that is we are far stronger with friends / allies and diplomacy than we ever could be with the "going in with guns a'blazing" mentality. Leonardo DiCaprio is incredibly impressive. Bearded and scruffy with sunglasses, he takes the gritty role and chows on it. Because he doesn't look especially mean, it's easier to see him as this more intellectually astute people person spy with a conscience and some integrity left. Plus, the make-up artists did a phenomenal job with his wounds.

Leonardo DiCaprio is incredibly impressive.
English actor Mark Strong is equally impressive as the Jordanian security minister. He'll remind some of Andy Garcia with his quiet but assertive voice and exquisite manners. Likewise, Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani is beautiful and charming as nurse Aisha who gives Roger Ferris more incentive to stay alive. And then there's Russell Crowe. He's never really played a character quite like this one. He's not a bad guy, but he's definitely not a really good guy. He's convinced himself that certain things that most rational people would say, "No, that's wrong" are right, ok, acceptable as long as he's safe, back in the States, able to take his daughter to her soccer games. He's arrogant, self-serving, bombastic, and completely uncharismatic. Russell Crowe has no trouble at all playing this nearly loathsome character to smarmy perfection at times. More importantly, the role and the performance serve to force an understanding of the concept of a 'bad' good guy and to remind us that we are not the only smart ones out there.

The ending provides an excellent and unexpected twist to this provocative film. Still, I don’t guess I'm alone in my feeling that I'm growing tired of Hollywood's take on the war on terror and the ways in which these fictional films can be used to propagate fear and internalized by viewers as fact.

… on the verge of cliché and redundant … for the film to have really made a statement, it would have had to make a statement that it all but avoids at every turn.
At least this one has some valuable lessons conveyed. Unfortunately, that too is on the verge of cliché and redundant. Body of Lies stands somewhat above, and as good as the film and the performances are, there's something less tangible that makes it seem somewhat more, I hate to say it but, run of the mill in some senses as much as it tries so hard not to be. It's possibly because for the film to have really made a statement, it would have had to make a statement that it all but avoids at every turn.

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Cast Members
Leonardo DiCaprioRussell CroweMark Strong
Golshifteh FarahaniOscar IsaacAli Suliman
Alon Abutbul
Ridley Scott
William Monahan

Review-lite Body of Lies (2008) [max of 150 words]
Despite excellent performances from all of the principle actors: DiCaprio, Crowe, and Mark Strong, Body of Lies lives and dies on not being able to be added to the list of clichés now almost overdone when it comes to Middle East terrorist films. For this one to have really reached a new level, it would have had to actually make some statements on the statements it seems to be trying to make.

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1 comment:

movie fan said...

Apparently Ridley Scott enjoys working with Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe... Leo did a pretty good job too, though it's still hard to imagine him as anything besides the teenage kid who made it big in Titanic