- Rated R
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All photos © Warner Bros.
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
he war on terror may be far from over, but Hollywood has already made quick work of the subject matter with no less than ten different films in the last two years. It probably would have been wise for Ridley Scott to wait a while before making his own political thriller, but if there’s anything positive to take away from the film, it’s that “Body of Lies” is one of the best post-9/11 movies ever made. That might not sound like much when you consider its company, but it’ll go a long way in the future when studios look back to determine what worked and what didn’t. “Body of Lies” certainly isn’t the first post-9/11 film to favor action over political commentary (Peter Berg's “The Kingdom” executed that method to a tee), but when the dust settles, it'll probably be the one everyone remembers.
Based on Washington Post writer David Ignatius’ novel of the same name, Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Roger Ferris, a top CIA field agent working in the Middle East. Assisted by his boss, Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe), from the safety of his Langley office, Ferris is sent to Jordan to track down terrorist leader Al Saleem (Alon Aboutboul) following a series of bombings across Europe. Initially, Ferris approaches the country’s Head of Intelligence, Hani Salaam (Mark Strong), for assistance in bringing down Al Saleem, but when their efforts prove fruitless, Ferris and Hoffman conjure up a scheme to trick him out of hiding. The operation is put in danger, however, when Ferris’ relationship with an Iranian nurse (Golshifteh Farahani) exposes his identity.
Though the film tries to overcomplicate things by jumping back and forth between locations more times than you’d care to count, “Body of Lies” is actually a pretty straightforward story. One could even say that not a lot actually happens throughout the course of its 129-minute runtime, and though the film is never too exhausting to sit through, it could have done with some minor edits. Thankfully, Scott manages to keep things interesting most of the time, and he even infuses a bit of comedy into the mix. The dynamic between Ferris and Hoffman is an interesting one – Ferris is probably the smarter of the two, yet he’s the one doing all the dirty work, while Hoffman is content with stealing the credit – so it’s a bit upsetting that DiCaprio and Crowe only truly get to share a few scenes. The rest of their time together is spent over the phone, and while their isolation works better than you'd imagine (much like in "American Gangster"), it still feels like a waste of such a promising team-up.
Neither actor is delivering his best work here, but the material definitely benefits from their involvement. Both speaking in Southern drawls (presumably because it makes them sound more American), DiCaprio does most of the legwork while Crowe, whose character’s most developed quality is that he’s constantly wearing a hands-free earpiece, gets the easier job of the two. To be fair, for as little work as Crowe has to do in this movie, he’s really invested himself in the character – going so far as to gain 50 pounds for what’s essentially a top-billed supporting role. It probably wasn’t worth the effort, though, as Crowe’s appearance seems like little more of a favor to Ridley Scott than a genuine interest in the material. He probably shot all of his scenes in two weeks and was paid just as much as his co-star.
Leave it to Mark Strong, then, to outshine both DiCaprio and Crowe. His Jordanian intelligence officer straddles a fine line between ominous and generous, and it’s played with great charm by the relatively unknown British actor. A new favorite of Guy Ritchie who has also recently appeared in films like “Stardust” and “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day,” Strong is primed to break out at any moment. And with a Ridley Scott credit now to his name, look for that to happen sooner rather than later.
Let’s hope the end of this barrage of post-9/11 films comes just as soon. For what it’s worth, “Body of Lies” feels more like a political thriller that just happens to take place in the Middle East than one with a certain agenda in mind. It takes the best parts of “The Kingdom,” “Rendition” and “Traitor” and rolls it into one super-film, and though the end result isn’t as great as you might expect, it still stands as a nice distraction from the impending months of much more serious, award-driven fare.
Special Editon Blu-Ray Review:
“Body of Lies” may not have done well at the box office stateside, but it made nearly twice as much overseas, and as a result of its overall performance, Warner Bros. has produced a well-balanced collection of special features for the film’s Blu-ray release. The audio commentary with director Ridley Scott, screenwriter William Monahan and author David Ignatius falls a bit short due to Scott’s habit of explaining everything that’s happening on screen, but “Actionable Intelligence” more than makes up for it with an excellent behind-the-scenes look at everything from production and costume design to stunts and special effects. Rounding out the single-disc effort are a series of cast and crew interviews, five deleted scenes with an introduction and optional commentary by Scott, and a digital copy of the film.