Friday, October 24, 2008

415 - Body of Lies review

Ridley Scott’s “Body of Lies” is a spy thriller with twice the plot and half the action. Its characters weave deceptions and chatter endlessly on the phone and plot the demise of an Islamic terrorist cell, once in a while stopping to shoot someone and romance a pretty girl.

Pic stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Roger Ferris, a CIA agent on the ground in the Middle East. He’s essentially the agency’s only foot soldier dedicated to tracking down one of the region’s most deadly terrorist leaders. It’s apparently hard enough to do this with thousands of support personnel, so just imagine Ferris’ troubles as he does it all practically by himself. Sure, he can gunfight and speak Arabic with the best of them, but it’s a difficult job, apparently.

Back at Langely, Ferris is monitored by Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe), his direct superior, who observes real-time movements via satellite in a room filled with computer equipment. This sort of makes spycraft like a videogame for Hoffman, who can give orders and watch results without having to pick another agent’s bone fragments out of his skin after a grenade blasts his car apart.

The film moves through the slightly tangled plot at a decent clip, but never slows down to allow us to familiarize ourselves with the why. Ferris does his duty with little complaint, which sometimes entails that innocents get caught in the crossfire, but after it was over I couldn’t think of what drives him. Is it patriotism, the desire to preserve civilian life, or the license to kill? For a man that clearly expresses doubts about the moral and practical merit of his assignments, the lack of an impetus reduces the main character into a plot device.

Ferris puts his operation in jeopardy when he falls for an Iranian nurse (Golshifteh Farahani) who gives him rabies shots needed after his latest assassination went to the dogs. Full disclosure: I’m partial to women of Iranian lineage (guys, try one sometime, I swear, you’ll agree), and consider them worthy of a lot of trouble, though perhaps not at the cost of letting a crowded marketplace in the Netherlands get blown to shreds. I suppose it would be a cardinal sin of marketing to feature DiCaprio in a film where he lacks a love interest, which might explain why the romances in his past few films have all been shoehorned in.

DiCaprio, by my estimation a very fine actor, does his best to conceal the script’s flaws, but ultimately without success. What’s it with him and this series of roles (“Blood Diamond,” “The Departed”) where he wears a perpetual scowl and kicks in the teeth of every other person he encounters? Perhaps he’s trying to offset the smug from all that global warming activism he participates in.

Russell Crowe, who receives second billing and screen time, is put in the unusual position of nailing a role yet contributing only modestly to the film’s overall value. His character simply talks into his earpiece while arguing with DiCaprio’s, not once stepping into danger or accidentally uttering an interesting line. Crowe reportedly gained 50 pounds for this part, which suggests to me that he seriously underestimates how difficult it is to lose a lot of weight.

During the times “Body of Lies” works, it often does so as a thriller about the way bureaucrats in air conditioned offices makes decisions that trample over the judgment of operatives dirtying their hands in the field. I even liked a moment where Ferris discusses Iraq, and several more where he deals with the debonair head of Jordanian intelligence. But it’s an expensive exercise that comes up short on both excitement and intrigue, that attempts to appear realistic until the conclusion, where severe tortures are survived, police materialize out of thin air, and all those lies are wrapped up in a tidy package.

1 comment:

Lucy said...

This movie is definitely one the best of 2008