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Body of Lies /

Rated: R

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Mark Strong, Golshifte Farahani, Simon McBurney

Directed by: Ridley Scott

Produced by: Ridley Scott, Donald De Line
Written by: William Monahan
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

     Ridley Scott’s Body of Lies talks like an intimate character-study set amidst contemporary U.S.-Middle East geopolitics, walks like a loud and explosive action-film, and ends up mastering neither genre nor a combination thereof. It feels like the talent involved couldn’t decide whether they wanted to make Syriana, Rambo, or The Kingdom and what resulted was a vat of emptiness. Body of Nothing is more like it.

     In all fairness, I’m sure that Washington Post writer David Ignatius’ source novel was probably a good one. The problem with the film-adaptation isn’t that the characters or the plot are intrinsically bad, it’s that the film can’t decide how to balance and portray them. The set-up for Body of Lies is interesting enough: Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a CIA operative who, working with Langley handler Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe), develops a creative plan to catcha  Jordan-based terrorist-leader responsible for a slew of attacks named Al-Saleem (Alon Abutbol). Ferris will make up a rival terrorist organization with its own fictitious leader, bringing Al-Saleem out of hiding because he will see a need to respond to someone stealing his thunder.

     Even with a great director, two great actors, and a sturdy premise written by an Oscar-winner (The Departed’s William Monahan), Body of Lies fails to conjure up much of the viewer’s interest. The plot moves in the opposite manner than that expected from a Scott film: Ferris and Hoffman decide what they’re going to do and they do it. Gone are the tricks, twists, and nuances that distinguish the director’s best works in the thriller genre. Outside of the central fabrication that Ferris and Hoffman concoct to capture Al-Saleem—this admittedly makes for the most engrossing passage of the film when it’s first introduced—there really isn’t much deception taking place here, contrary to what the title promises. Again, I return to the idea that the movie wants to be two entirely separate things and in the process avoids both. The material might have felt aptly deceitful if it had offered the thoughtful introspection its contemplative and quiet tone suggests, but it’s too caught up in matters of plot to do so. Only trouble is: the plot in turn is limited by said tone, meaning the film is rarely allowed to get the viewer riled up. The action in seems more obligatory to what’s keeping the story moving than does captivating and edgy.

     And the performances – what wastes of phenomenal thespians. In the lead role, DiCaprio could’ve been replaced by just about any other competent actor; the requirements for his role are that he fit the profile of a working CIA operative and capture a certain amount of anxious energy when scheming Ferris’ central-plan. He does so fine, but this lends to a performance that is as blasé as the character. Crowe is put in an even worse predicament, spending his small amount of screen-time on the phone with DiCaprio, literally “phoning it in” as Variety’s Todd McCarthy quips in his review. Apparently, Scott had Crowe gain fifty pounds to better look the part of his character, a droll Southern cynic of a handler, which makes one wonder if Scott’s vision was at all translated to the screen. Crowe plays such a stock-seeming character that it’s hard to believe that Scott thought a major physical change to be vital to the film’s representation of Hoffman.

     Body of Lies comes less than a year after the release of a much better Scott-Crowe collaboration, American Gangster. One wonders if Scott had enough time to prepare for this film after finishing that one. Given the can’t-miss reputation of the cast and crew behind Body of Lies, this seems like the only rational explanation for the picture’s failure. Now, all one can do is put this mediocre dent in the usually-masterful filmmaker’s resume out of mind—believe me, it’ll fade from memory quickly—and hope that his next effort (which also stars Crowe), Nottingham, represents a return-to-form.

-Danny Baldwin, Bucket Reviews

Review Published on: 10.9.2008

Screened on: 10.6.2008 at the AMC Burbank 16 in Burbank, CA.


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