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Overall Rating

Awesome: 4.88%
Worth A Look: 19.51%
Pretty Bad: 19.51%
Total Crap: 2.44%

5 reviews, 11 user ratings

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Body of Lies
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by Erik Childress

"More Like A Small Handbasket Of Them"
3 stars

After making just a mere four movies apiece throughout the decades of the 1980’s and 90’s, Ridley Scott has been one of the true machines of the 21st century. Alternating between epic tales of battles, both modern and archival, and less successful light comedies, Scott has averaged nearly a film per year since he achieved Oscar glory with his grand prize winning Gladiator. With his fourth film in as many years, Scott has achieved the kind of respect as both a workhouse and an artist that still gets us stoked to see what he’s got up his sleeve next. But it’s the level of respect that supercedes our excitement as Scott’s resume (past his ultimate 1-2 punch of Alien and Blade Runner) has been of workmanlike enthusiasm. You need someone to deliver you a decent, passable piece of storytelling? Scott’s your guy. After a less-than-stellar stretch including Matchstick Men, Kingdom of Heaven, A Good Year and the shoulda-been-great American Gangster, expectations are medium at best and Body of Lies does nothing to raise them.

CIA operative Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe) has ideas on the U.S.’ war on terror. Not really new ideas, but he makes a compelling argument to his superiors as if they or we have never heard them before. The bad guys apparently are getting tougher to spot as they’ve learned to stop using cell phones and tracking devices. Kind of a moot point as our Patriot Game technology is better than ever as Hoffman can keep an eye on his man on the ground wherever he goes. That guy is Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio) who could do away with his handler’s constant interference in his operations. Just as success appears to be imminent, there’s always the wrinkle of Hoffman either complicating things or completely blowing Ferris’ play in favor of another objective.

In search of Islamist terrorist, Al-Saleem (Alon Aboutboul), Ferris convinces Hoffman to share intelligence with Jordanian Intelligence Chief, Hani Salaam (Mark Strong), whose well-dressed demeanor and influence in the area make him appear more like a mob sophisticate than a law-and-order enforcer. Throwing out there the one rule of “don’t lie to me”, we know that Ferris’ loyalty with Hani is doomed from the start with a maverick like Hoffman securing whatever he needs for his own master plans. Ferris’ own to create a dummy terrorist organization to draw out the one mastermind who doesn’t like to take credit for his work has the potential to be a commentary on our recurring foreign policy of creating havoc to justify the end game, but like much of everything in Body of Lies is just one more element left twisting in the wind with nary the know-how or action-backed tension to justify it as a story worth telling.

It certainly doesn’t begin that way, opening with a pre-credit raid on a terrorist cell and a pair of punchy action sequences leading to a near-fatal conclusion for Ferris. Once he comes to in the hospital though, it’s a slow beginning to the end with a lot of talking points and plot developments that we’ve seen in much better films from last year’s The Kingdom to the underrated Robert Redford/Brad Pitt thriller, Spy Game, from Ridley’s more flashy brother, Tony. We usually expect Ridley to be a little more invested in his story and characters, but when you go back and look at Tony’s film it excels in all the little details and motivations for good-guy doublecrossing while Ridley’s lumbers around without creating any serious tension for Ferris’ well being. Sure he’s in the occasional firefight or foot chase, but the way he’s able to bounce back and forth between countries, there’s never a sense that he’s ever a satellite away from a rescue or one wrong turn from being disavowed.

Peter Berg’s The Kingdom may have held back its slam-bang action for its final 20 minutes, but along the way developed the kind of relationship between our forces and theirs that is missing in the lackadaisical tate-a-tate with Ferris and Hani. Mark Strong, while showing basically the same kind of presence he’s developed in the last two Guy Ritchie films, is nevertheless a presence. We want to see more of his influence in Ferris’ plan and his region rather than just a strongarm pawn who keeps getting mad every time he’s let down. The way he lays out his whole purpose in the final scenes has less subtlety than the talking villain revealing his scheme for the audience and the helpless protagonist who couldn’t figure it out for himself. There’s little to figure in Body of Lies anyway, other than why it was necessary to introduce a local love interest for Ferris for the explicit purposes of having the dialogue of our involvement over there and to create a third-act conflict that anyone not trained in CIA undercover work would tell you is a bad idea.

William Monahan’s adaptation of David Ignatius’ novel isn’t very persuasive as either a statement or a straight thriller. Every time DiCaprio is trying to pretend he’s not yelling into a cell phone, its hard not to think of how much richer Monahan’s work on The Departed was. It’s easy to grasp the point of Crowe’s win-at-all-costs mentality in the comfort of his own backyard while our guys are on the ground in the real fire, but to stretch it to the extent that the film actually uses the same footage of Crowe and his cereal in two different scenarios well apart is indicative of how strained for substance Body of Lies really is. Like DiCaprio’s Ferris, apparently able to blend in as a Muslim since he sports facial hair, but not enough when its required he look like an obvious whitey to draw scornful looks, Body of Lies is just another sheep in wolf’s clothing.

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originally posted: 10/10/08 15:00:00
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User Comments

9/14/17 morris campbell dull watch homeland instead 2 stars
6/30/09 matt totally unremarkable and predictable propaganda vehicle 2 stars
5/19/09 mary m I liked it but it went too long and we all lost interest. 3 stars
3/22/09 Monday Morning Love Leo, but this is just one more flick w/ a lot of explosions. Too long, too. 3 stars
2/22/09 action movie fan good start with good dialouge but too eneven and weak climax 3 stars
2/07/09 jeep not bad, not great, just a servicable espionage flick finely made 4 stars
1/14/09 Shaun Wallner Well made. 3 stars
10/13/08 mick How could you even compare no.1hack Berg with SCOTT! u suck balls! 5 stars
10/11/08 jcjs33 a 4 or 5 .. i liked Syriana a little more .. fun, entertaining, pertinent, fine acting 5 stars
10/11/08 Darkstar I thought it was pretty good 4 stars
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  10-Oct-2008 (R)
  DVD: 17-Feb-2009


  DVD: 17-Feb-2009

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