BODY OF LIES —–Ridley Scott’s third foray into the morass of Middle East conflicts, this 2008 espionage actioner is coated with his trademark visual panache but despite a lot of urgent movement and chatter, shattering explosions and tiresome profanity it adds nothing new to the stew and leaves little impression other than commending one superior performance (though you might not forget the hammer-to-fingers scene).
An aggressive CIA case officer (Leonardo DiCaprio) tracks a terrorist organization around numerous regional hot spots and European bomb-attack scenes, while back in Virginia and D.C., his callous oink of a boss (Russell Crowe) has no compunction about duplicitous tactics and shows zip for finesse in dealing with proud and touchy allies and desperate and threatened contacts. Everyone lies, too many die.
Despite the dependable energetic work from DiCaprio, sleek cinematography and some well-crafted action, it’s all too-familiar and conventional stuff. We’re surprised you can’t always trust the Intelligence agencies? Based off the novel by cozy Establishment insider, Iraq war booster and CIA apologist David Ignatius, William Monahan’s script (tweaked by Steve Zaillian) overdoses with swearing, lazily dulling its impact, and an unlikely romantic subplot is awkwardly shoehorned in. DiCaprio’s battered-but-fair ground-level guy gets interested in an Iranian exile nurse, played by Goldshifteh Farahani (an Iranian exile herself). Leo has charm, his character doesn’t. Dumping charm for smarm, Crowe saw fit to scarf on dozens of pounds to make his unpleasant, self-satisfied string-puller even more at odds with his lean & hungry pawns in the field. With the lame A Good Year (another Rid-Russ miscalculation) it’s one of his least engaging roles. Farahani’s nurse is the only person in the film to give much of a care about.
By far the strongest element, best conceived and written and the most ably performed, is the urbane Jordanian Intelligence Director, put over beautifully by Mark Strong, one of the most commanding—and least-recognized—actors of the day. Easily the best part of the film.
Though set in ten different countries, filming, other than some shots in Amman, Jordan, was all done in Morocco and Maryland. Scott’s work is always worth a look, even those few that don’t come off (A Good Year, White Squall) but this one, for all the effort that went into it, lacks the grip of his first Middle East showstopper Black Hawk Down and can’t begin to touch the masterful sweep and depth of Kingdom Of Heaven.
Produced for $70,000,000, it grossed $118,600,000. Hardly the smash hoped for, but stronger than other well-made—and better—films seeking to critically measure the mission, mistakes and miseries of the endless and dismal battles—Green Zone, Rendition, Jarhead, The Hurt Locker, In The Valley Of Elah, Lions For Lambs, good movies that did not receive due embrace from the crowd. Throw in some red meat ‘hero’ jazz and more cash follows—Zero Dark Thirty, Lone Survivor, American Sniper. With Oscar Isaac, Alon Abutbul, Simon McBurney, Vince Colosimo, Lubna Azabal and Ali Suliman. 128 minutes.