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The main thing I was curious about with "Body of Lies" is what sort of
film it would end up being. It could have been a post-Bourne action
thriller, a serious dramatic thriller with a political edge ("Munich",
"Syriana"), one of those intolerably dull post-9/11 films ("Lions for
Lambs"), or something like Ridley Scott's brother Tony's "Spy Game", a
movie with an interesting premise and disappointing execution.
I would argue that "Body of Lies" is the exact opposite on paper of "Spy Game". It's a movie with a questionable, sketchy premise and damn good execution. I'd always definitely preferred Ridley's sensibilities and films to Tony's, and his take on a story about a CIA agent working against agency politics is definitely superior as well, although a very, very large amount of my preference for "Body of Lies" comes from the script by "The Departed" scribe William Monahan. "Body of Lies" bizarrely manages to work as both a hugely entertaining, nifty action thriller and as a socially/politically-conscious drama. I can't believe I'm about to say this, but it really does go from "Syriana" to "The Bourne Identity" in a second, and does so without feeling ridiculous, contrived, or silly. It just somehow pulls it off, and I'm crediting Monahan with most of this success although Scott certainly handles the shifts in tone extremely well.
All you should know about the story going in is that DiCaprio plays Roger Ferris, a CIA field agent in an important position in the middle east division, just below the leader of the division Ed Hoffman (played by Russell Crowe), a snarky, racist, and mostly unlikeable man who leads the missions remotely through his laptop and cellphone. Ferris uncovers a lead on a major terrorist leader potentially operating out of Jordan, and chooses to act on it, involving Jordanian intelligence leader Hani Salam, played brilliantly by Mark Strong. His performance is just the right side of slightly hammy, and works wonderfully well. There are twists and turns and it's a lot of fun.
Now here's where I'm going to start sounding really bizarre: I know I just said it was a lot of fun, but there's a good amount of substance here and a good deal to be learned about middle-eastern politics (having lived there for many years, I can assure you that this film works as a primer on the mindset and cultural feel of the locations it is set in, and of the political system there. Its observations on Jordanian intelligence in particular are very much spot-on. There are scenes where the film gets really dark and serious, and they completely work as well. In particular, for a white American screenwriter's work, this is incredibly perceptive and understanding of how Jordanians act and feel. Something like "Rendition" from last year, while generally just not a good film, was also hopelessly inaccurate on just about everything. There was no work there, just a message the filmmaker wanted to send. With "Body of Lies", every second feels (and is) authentic and real (outside, perhaps, of some of the details of the espionage aspects, although the writer of the book it was based on was CIA), and there's even some cultural jokes completely in Arabic, untranslated on screen, that basically no non-Arabs will understand. It's a remarkably vivid, real portrait, and considering Hollywood's past of portraying Arabs generally in a 'dem Ayrabs, we America' way, which completely ignored the basic dress and attitude of real Arabs, something like this is refreshing.
The movie isn't perfect, and there's a key scene at the end which feels very didactic and heavy-handed (although judging by the twentysomethings who left the theater talking about how cool one of the torture scenes was, even a message delivered this bluntly just isn't getting into their thick skulls), but it somehow gets away with being an enjoyable genre piece and a genuinely thought-provoking and perceptive film (but not one which focuses on these elements to the point of being overbearing), with actual understanding of mid-eastern politics and culture, wonderfully involving characters (including the refreshingly non-sexual love interest Aisha, played by Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani), and even a surprising sense of humor. "Body of Lies" is most definitely a cut above most in its (overall quite poor) sub-genre, and one of the biggest surprises of the year.
You really have to admire Ridley Scott's moxie.
Even though the 70-year-old director has long established himself as one of Hollywood's best and most durable directors; having helmed some of the most entertaining films of all time, in virtually every genre (including sci-fi classics like Alien and Blade Runner); and having been nominated no less than three times for the Best Director Oscar (Thelma & Louise, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down), to decide to take on theme that has produced exactly zero blockbusters thus far the Middle East and terrorism takes an incredible amount of chutzpah.
But it does help if you have the help of two of the biggest actors in Hollywood at the moment, those being Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe (who has worked with Scott on two previous films, Gladiator and A Good Year). It's ironic to think that the last time these two actors shared the screen was back in 1995, with the clichéd-but-entertaining oater The Quick and the Dead. Of course, at the time, Crowe was a complete unknown and DiCaprio was a 21-year-old newcomer with only a couple of notable titles under his belt. But oh, how that's all changed now.
It's not easy to describe the plot of Body of Lies without giving too much away. DiCaprio plays CIA operative Roger Ferris, who is trying to flush out a terrorist leader named Al-Saleem in Jordan. He gets his orders from Ed Hoffman (Crowe), a man for whom results are the only satisfactory outcome, delivered with a fair amount of arrogance and a cocky Southern drawl. Ed plays the situation like a kid playing a video game, and has the resources to change the rules anytime he feels like it, dispensing his orders from his office, from his backyard, from his daughter's soccer game, for Pete's sake! This, of course, infuriates Ferris to no end, because he is the one who is in the trenches, chasing the bad guys, dodging bullets, ducking explosions, and procuring the badly-needed intelligence that Hoffman needs. Ferris is also trying to build a productive working relationship with the head of Jordanian Intelligence, Hani Salaam (Mark Strong), a relationship that is made even more tenuous by Hoffman's double-dealings and hidden agendas.
There are so many ways that Scott could have screwed this up. A lesser director might have chosen to ramp up the action, sacrificing intelligence for entertainment. A lesser director could have taken this story of espionage and twisted it into a convoluted and indecipherable Gordian knot. A lesser director would have gotten less convincing performances from his lead actors.
But Ridley Scott is not a lesser director. Though the plot is indeed complex, with many layers and sub-layers, deceit and treachery, Scott never lets you lose sight of the overall picture. He tells a solid, wonderfully entertaining story, without the need to drive home its message with sledgehammer subtlety (after all, very few things are black and white). And most of all, he gets electric performances from Crowe and DiCaprio, whose symbiotic relationship with a thinly-veiled veneer of mutual contempt is a pleasure to watch.
I don't know if Body of Lies will end up breaking through the barrier that every movie in this genre couldn't; but for what it's worth, I hope it does. One thing's for sure if anybody can, Ridley Scott can.
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Films involving 'current events'--particularly those relating to
anything happening in the Middle East and Terrorism--tend to be soaked
in the writers', producers' and director's politics, which usually end
up very much in-your-face and spoil the film, because you suddenly lose
the story and drown in the preaching and proselytizing.
Ridley Scott, who has already addressed the West-East/Christianity-Islam issue in a previous film, 'Kingdom of Heaven', this time bit the bullet (instead of the sword) and continued KoH's story about 1000 years later. 'Body of Lies' is very much a Ridley Scott movie and this translates into the film's politics as well. Thing is, you can't leave politics out of a political movie; and so what do you do? Well, here's a newsflash for the poli-preachers on all sides: it's possible to have it all, and just watch Ridley Scott do it. Just like KoH, it's all about even-handedness and realizing that (1) every side in a conflict has a point of view, which, to itself, is perfectly valid; and (2) every side has people you'd probably like and some you really wouldn't, (3) the way to peace lies with understanding (1) and (2); and not with having just one point of view, no matter how righteous it may appear. Both, Islamophobes and Islamophiles--or those on the extremes of any aspect of the political spectrum--will probably find ample elements to dislike about this film. Others of a more moderate and even-handed disposition will find much to like and appreciate.
All of this, rather profound, stuff is wrapped up in a gritty Ridley Scott production and direction, that keeps your full attention for its full 2+ hours. Leonardo DiCaprio has really grown up and cast off his annoying persona, which was so prominent in just about all his movies; until 'Blood Diamond' came along. Russell Crowe is basically a secondary character, eclipsed almost completely by DiCaprio and Mark Strong. The latter has come a long way since I first saw him in the BBC production of Jane Austen's 'Emma'. The gentle and understated romance element provided by Golshifteh Farahani as 'Aisha' provided a nice contrast to the testosterone-soaked male world in which this drama plays out.
The movie confirms what I've known for a long time: Ridley Scott apparently can do no wrong.
Does trust go out the window in the time of war? It's the question the
audience may ponder during the course of this film where it seems that
even those on the same team aren't always working in each other's best
Leonard DiCaprio stars as Roger Farris, a CIA agent who is seeking to capture a terrorist in Jordan. Farris is in constant contact with Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe), a US government official with no respect or time for Farris' calls to work with Jordanian officials to solve their case.
After a mishap jeopardizes Farris lead, he teams up with Hani (Mark Strong), a charismatic and enigmatic, Jordanian covert operations official.
What follows is the push and pull between the three men's methodology on capturing the terrorist.
While "Body of Lies" is definitely a product of a post-911 world, it does not feel like the numerous post-911 political thrillers such as "Syriana" due to it's subtlety. It's more of spy thriller with a cautionary tale on America's foreign relations mixed in.
One minor complaint is the pacing of the film. There are a few stops and starts as Farris deals with the reality of the effectiveness of his enemies. As he adjusts his plans it feels as if the story starts back from the top.
But the performances are excellent from DiCaprio; who is the only actor his age who could tackle this role with the any type credibility and depth. Crowe and Strong, down to Golshifteh Farahani as Aisha, the nurse DiCaprio is drawn to and especially Oscar Isaac who plays Bassam, DiCaprio's go-to guy for information.
I have really liked Leonardo DiCaprio's films since he came back from his hiatus (esp Blood Diamond). However, this one was quite forgettable. I enjoyed the movie when I was in the theater and left thinking "Huh. That was pretty good". But the week after someone asked what movie I saw and I couldn't remember. It reminded me a lot of "The Kingdom" actually (the feel, not the details). It was a very well made film, dialog and script were good, just nothing really stood out and grabbed me. Leo was the shine, he is such a talented actor and I was happy to see him in a great role. I just wish the plot had something fantastic in it to make it into a great film.
V. well-made; everyone from the cast and crew pulled their own weight
in Body of Lies.
Director Ridley Scott's genius shines through what could have been another unpalatable, trite topic of the US' relations with the Middle East and terrorism. He expertly unravels the story of CIA operative Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio) who is assigned to flush out an evasive terrorist who is blowing up public places all over the world. Ferris is increasingly frustrated with his boss Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe)'s impatience and double dealings, which more than once puts himself in jeopardy, challenges the trust he is trying to build with Jordanian leader Hani (Mark Strong) and his budding romance with the pretty Palestinian nurse Aisha (Golshifteh Farahani).
DiCaprio just keeps getting better and better as he is now more able to lose himself in a role and successfully shed the pretty. Crowe does well in an understated but dangerously quiet role as a Washington-based puppetmaster. The versatile Italian-Austrian Andy Garcia-lookalike Strong is fantastic as the powerful Hani, while Farahani's face lights up the screen and turns in a memorable performance as well.
The attention to detail in this movie is just awesome; the action sequences are not over the top but satisfactory enough to not lose the main storyline despite the complex thread of subplots. Overall, an engaging, intelligently-made film.
One of the Greatest Directors of All time has picked a touchy subject
for his newest film. Did Rid pull it off?
Body of Lies is a smart political thriller on the state of some of the world's debacles,
Some of the high points of the film were the action sequences which were very similar to the style of action sequences of "Black Hawk Down". The acting was also great. Personally i liked Crowe's performance more as a CIA head he was very dedicated to the role and put on 66pounds for it, he also had the Virginian accent down. But I thought that Leinardo DiCaprio was very similar to his role in the departed. (Watch when he is talking on the phone you will see what I mean) The cinematography was Grade A also.
But the thing that impressed me most was the way Ridley Built up the story and tension not knowing who to trust, (obviously one of the themes of the movie) this brought me back to the days of "Alien" with the slow building atlosphere which made "Alien" one of the most respected films of all time. It was also a balanced look at the Iraq situation as it wasn't following the Anti-America trend but it also wasn't trying to justify the war. It also will leave you thinking about the current events long after the credits have ended.
All in All through great shots, Acting and Direction make "Body Of Lies" a hit and can be put on Ridley Scotts list of Greats on his CV.
Amidst all the slam-bang, Body of Lies is actually a superb character
study of two preening, bumbling CIA (presumably) agents trying to save
the world in the Middle East. Roger Ferris (Di Caprio) is the agent on
the ground, and Ed Hoffman (Crowe) is his remote-control boss in
Washington. Their collective M.O. is to overreact and improvise at
every turn, aided and abetted by their deep attachment to high-tech
gadgetry and fundamental disregard for human lives. Their ally and
foil, the Jordanian head of intelligence (Mark Strong), prefers more
patient methods informed by a less skin-deep understanding of the
All three are trying to penetrate and take out a shadowy, violent Islamic fundamentalist group and its leader. The plot is serviceable, the elements familiar, but it all works well to coax out Scott's and screenwriter William Monahan's critiques of the American way of unconventional war in the Middle East. The movie itself is funny, visually fine (Scott's touch hasn't deserted him), and engaging. Its center is the uneasy but highly entertaining partnership between Di Caprio and Crowe. At times verging on pure comedy (their semi-serious macho argument over which of them could beat up the other 10 years ago is a high point), the film never tips too far in this direction thanks to the two actors' easy skill and Scott's sure hand at maintaining a certain tone.
Is Body of Lies an antiwar statement? I don't think so - it's possible Monahan and Scott even think the Americans' grotesque imperial venture has a chance, if only they could learn a few lessons from the likes of the self-possessed Jordanian. But this seems unlikely. At the beginning, Crowe makes the very good point that it's precisely the Americans' mastery of (by?) their high-tech appurtenances that makes it nearly impossible for them to see their foes, who use much more down-to-earth techniques - like passing instructions by word of mouth. He then proceeds to ignore his own advice throughout the movie. Di Caprio rips into Crowe for his disregard of the lives of their local operatives, then goes on to thoughtlessly place in mortal danger an architect and an Iranian refugee nurse with whom he's infatuated.
They just don't learn. If they did, they wouldn't be who they are: the gallant spreaders of justice, democracy, and casual calamity. If that's what Scott and Monahan are trying to tell us, it's antiwar statement enough, the same news that Graham Greene brought us over 50 years ago with The Quiet American, updated and just as pertinent.
Ridley Scott has always been very consistent in my mind as a filmmaker.
He has occasional flashes of genius (Alien, Gladiator), but always
seems to make steady, good, interesting, and watchable films. The same
applies here with Body of Lies. While the film will not be this year's
major awards contender, Body of Lies is among the better films by
Scott, somewhere between American Gangster and Black Hawk Down.
One thing Scott always manages to do in his films is ground the film in reality very well, setting a mood that allows us to get into the film easier. While it has its dark moments, I wouldn't consider this a supremely dark or depressing picture, despite the subject matter. In Body of Lies, his take on the War on Terror in the Middle East is gripping and realistic (especially the sets), though not as thrilling as it should be. Though put in danger many times throughout the film, I didn't find myself on the edge of my seat whenever those moments rolled around.
As we already know, the film features two of the most dynamic and talented actors working today in Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe. Here, Scott gives his usual tag team partner Crowe a break to let DiCaprio take the reigns. Leo has long been one of my favorite actors for his ability to bring intensity and grit to every role he plays (outside of Titanic and Gilbert Grape, of course), making real and believable characters time in and time out. Again, DiCaprio steals the show and makes the movie watchable, as he's in almost every scene in one way or another. Without his commanding and charismatic presence, the film would sink. He delivers yet another winner of a show, showcasing his ability to grow into even more adult roles as he grows older. His role in the film is strikingly similar to his position in his career. He's in between young heroic roles and adult authoritative roles, which is what his Roger Ferris is: a young CIA agent dealing with new found authority and choices.
Though on paper, Russell Crowe's role is pretty weak, he manages to turn in a great performance through an altered appearance and voice. Once again, Crowe's character symbolizes who he is as a person: a shaken soda bottle one twist from exploding. It is because our two leads (I feel weird saying that, as DiCaprio is the only true lead) work so well together and hold our attention so well that the film succeeds. An able supporting cast adds to the film as well.
Technically well made, just like every other Scott films, Body of Lies brings nothing new to the table while taking things we've seen before and one-upping the last to do it. The sound in particular was a plus for me, as was the art direction (like I've said, these are always good things in a Ridley Scott film). The preview can be a bit deceiving in marketing the film as an action political thriller, like Blood Diamond, when in reality it is the thinking man's thriller without that plot twist I thought would be coming. While the film does have some marvelous and well done action, it's few and far between, as the film is more about gathering intelligence than intelligently blowing everything up.
I also appreciate that the film rarely dragged or got boring, and I credit this to yet another winning script from William Monahan, scribe of The Departed. I think another Oscar nomination for Monahan is possible here. All in all, Body of Lies is a well made film that would be nothing special (again, the lack of thrills in some parts) if not for the commanding presence of Leonardo DiCaprio and the always consistent Ridley Scott. It's not worth losing your head over, but it is worth giving the price of admission to your local theater.
The craftsmanship behind director Ridley Scott's 2008 convulsive
political thriller is impressive, but having acts of terrorism drive an
intentionally labyrinth plot reveals how they impede the story
structurally, an insurmountable barrier that screenwriter William
Monahan ("The Departed") can't seem to overcome. The movie's first half
is all the more bewildering for all the double-crosses and cover-ups
that serve to set up the central situation. Based on Washington Post
columnist David Ignatius' 2007 novel, the movie focuses on embedded CIA
operative Roger Ferris who is on an undercover assignment to hunt an
Al-Qaeda terrorist leader named Al-Saleem. Ferris is not entirely alone
as he is connected via cell phone with his stateside boss Ed Hoffman,
who is the head of the CIA's Near East division and directs Ferris
toward life-threatening tasks in a most nonchalant manner from his
upscale suburban home.
The plot's impetus is driven by the elusive Al-Saleem's unblinking series of suicide bombings in Europe in response to the invasion by US and UK troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The movie gets more interesting when Ferris decides to work with Jordanian intelligence director Hani Salaam, an erudite, enigmatic figure who is well entrenched in the Middle East militia and appears to take a page from Mario Puzo's "The Godfather" when it comes to loyalty and betrayal. Of course, it's a matter of course that Ferris' loyalty is tested when an elaborate plan is hatched to create a bogus competing terrorist group and use an unwitting Dubai architect as the head. The other complicating factor is that Ferris has fallen for pretty Iranian nurse Aisha when he gets treated for possible rabies at a clinic. It becomes inevitable that she also becomes a pawn in the political intrigue. Scott paints his canvas with a lot of graphic violence from large-scale bombings to more intimate acts of torture.
All of the external elements are fitting, but they can't seem to masquerade the convoluted and often cliché-ridden plot at the film's core. A solid cast goes a long way to compensate for the plot holes. As Ferris, Leonardo DiCaprio applies his trademark wiry energy to an intensely compelling performance that could have shown a bit more variety. Adding fifty belly-stretching pounds to his frame, Russell Crowe, Scott's favorite leading man ("Gladiator", "American Gangster", "A Good Year"), plays the Arkansan Hoffman as a scene-stealing character part. The irony is that the Australian actor's Southern accent is more convincing than DiCaprio's. Their antagonistic interplay, played out mostly on the phone, is rather predictably developed. Fetching Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani provides gratefully calm relief to the ongoing mayhem as Aisha, although her character comes across as a mere plot device. There is a nicely fractious dinner table scene with Ferris and her judgmental older sister, although the movie plays down the more human-size hostilities in favor of the pyrotechnics.
As Hani, Mark Strong ("Sunshine", "Stardust") leaves the most vivid impression of the cast but for the most old-fashioned of cinematic reasons - he plays what could be a villainous figure as a suave, mysterious man of honor who is completely on top of his job, an intentional counterpoint, at least physically, to Crowe's slovenly Hoffman. The film's resolution defies credibility, but it finally becomes clear that Monahan is not interested in exposing the factors that have driven the Middle East political maelstrom into acts of escalating terrorism. Rather, his screenplay shows that testosterone-driven Hollywood-style entertainment can take place anywhere.
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