“Body of Lies” plays like director Ridley Scott went and saw an odd double feature consisting of Charles Ferguson’s excellent documentary “No End in Sight” and “The Bourne Conspiracy.” Then he decided the one movie should be more like the other, and vice versa.
“No End In Sight” is a documentary about Iraq composed of interviews with street-level intelligence workers complaining about how they were ignored by higher ups, who undermined just about everything they tried to do and thereby ruined any and all chance America had of getting out of Iraq quickly and efficiently. And “Bourne” was about a guy who could singlehandedly win a war against the world, if only his conscience would leave him alone.
Leonardo DiCaprio is the Bourne, except now his name is Roger.He chases terrorists primarily in Jordan, though don’t doubt that he’s got three passports and six alibis.He builds relationships with the locals, primarily chief of Jordanian intelligence Hani, and executes ops from the ground level. He is constantly on the phone with Russell Crowe, who gained thirty pounds to play DiCaprio’s Wolfowitz. Crowe thinks he can save civilization while taking his children to preschool. He doesn’t need to listen to the locals, because he has the “global perspective.”Crowe consistently undermines DiCaprio’s ops, gets his men killed and him captured, and walks away with a smile and a swagger. (Given his track record, a treachery case against him might have some real traction.)
“Body of Lies” is, really, a story about two failed operations. (The biggest problem with the film is DiCaprio’s continued naivete and protestations; you’d think a guy this smart would learn what to expect from his idiot boss, and adjust.Most of the rest of us have.) The film splits time almost exactly between the two failed ops, but the second is much more interesting.It involves setting up an innocent Jordanian architect to look like a terrorist, and then waiting for the real terrorists to give him a congratulatory call. That sounds like a great setup to me; I wish Scott had taken the time to develop the character of the architect, his relationship with DiCaprio, and the trigger pull. But the time is already spent, and some scenes feel rushed through, one wonders if others were just skipped. Maybe someday there will be a Director’s Cut.The movie resolves with a clever twist that reinforces the overall point, but shows that Scott, ultimately, is more interested in making his political point than in making a great movie.
(Sidenote: But is it a political point, really?It’s likely to be called by some “Anti-American.”But “Body of Lies” shows us one patriotic American who is very good at this job – fighting terrorists – and another patriotic American who isn’t very good being his boss. I believe one of the great tragedies of our day is that it has become inherently, heatedly “political” to ever point out that someone in government has done a less than stellar job. For the record, I, not Ridley Scott, made the comparison of Crowe to Wolfowitz-– if you think it’s wrong, fine.I think you can disagree with me and still enjoy the movie.)
So “Body of Lies” is not great.It’s still pretty good.Ridley Scott may be a little heavy-handed with his politics, but he still knows how to tell a story on a screen. It is taut, crisply edited, and consistently engaging. It’s been hard for anybody to get Americans interested in movies about the Middle East, and in the last year or two I’ve seen a lot of above-average films (Stop-Loss, Rendition, In the Valley of Elah) mostly ignored by moviegoers. Scott takes a much more bankable route; “Body of Lies” functions perfectly well as a spy thriller, and fans of spy thrillers will not be disappointed with it.It’s not Scott’s best work – it’s about on par with last year’s “American Gangster” and certainly inferior to “Black Hawk Down,” “Blade Runner,” and “Alien,”but perhaps it’s as good a movie as he dared to make, given the subject matter.
- To fans of spy thrillers, Bourne movies, Bond movies, etc.
- To anyone who’s seen “No End in Sight.”
- If you’re sick of movies with a “political” message.
- If nobody’s going to get you to watch a movie about the war on Terrorism/War in Iraq, no matter how good or entertaining it might be.