DIR: Ridley Scott • WRI: William Monahan • PRO Donald De Line, Ridley Scott • DOP: Alexander Witt • ED: Pietro Scalia • DES: Arthur Max • CAST: Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Mark Strong, Golshifteh Farahani, Oscar Isaac, Simon McBurney
Body of Lies is about a CIA agent called Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio), who is trying to catch a terrorist leader in Jordan, with the help of Hani Salaam (Mark Strong), the Chief of Intelligence there, and under the supervision of his boss in Washington, Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe). The film is written by William Monahan (The Departed) and directed by Ridley Scott (who you’ve probably heard of).
It’s a good-looking film (inevitable with Ridley Scott directing), and the leads have a Front Page type of relationship, with Russell Crowe playing the Walter Burns to DiCaprio’s Hildy Johnson. The two actors have a good rapport, and their scenes together are pretty entertaining. Crowe is in America most of the time, and there’s much contrasting between his everyday life back home and the business he’s about. This may also be a statement about the complacency of the folks in Washington who can easily sanction death and destruction without having to think about it.
Which brings me to the fact that the film is about America’s conflicts in the Middle East, at least superficially. There’s also DiCaprio’s relationship with an Iranian nurse to show us the humanity of the people out there. It isn’t done in a way that’s too jarring, but you can’t help wondering what relationship the story has to reality, or even what the point is. Is the film saying anything in particular about war or about the Middle East or America? Would it make a difference if it didn’t deal with real conflicts?
It may be unfair to ask for more than action from a film like this. Plenty of Second World War movies were just capers, but a lot of those were propaganda films, which this film very much isn’t, and they were about a war that was easier to categorise in terms of Good and Bad. It’s hard not to wonder if the people making all these Iraq movies are trying to say something, or are merely trying to repeat the successes of movies about Vietnam. So far, there have been no Apocalypse Nows, Deer Hunters, or Full Metal Jackets, or if there have, they’ve gone unnoticed, since most of the Iraq movies have pretty much flopped.
This film really shares more with the Mission Impossible and Bourne movies than with the aforementioned Vietnam movies, which is not an entirely negative criticism. It’s a smart action/spy caper that would probably be more successful if it wasn’t mired in a political hot topic.