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Overall Rating
3.05

Awesome: 4.88%
Worth A Look: 19.51%
Average53.66%
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 Peter Sobczynski

"Someone To Watch Over Them"
3 stars

On the surface, “Body of Lies” would seem to have all the required elements for a top-notch contemporary thriller. It has a storyline torn from today’s headlines, plenty of slickly crafted action sequences, a pair of big-name stars tearing into the screenplay and each other with obvious relish and a master filmmaker at the helm to bring them all together into an efficient and entertaining final product. And yet, even with all of these considerable assets, the film lacks the urgency and intelligence required for something along these lines to succeed--despite the topicality of its Iraq War setting, it really doesn’t have much to specifically say about the conflict and while it tosses off enough jargon in an attempt to seem smart, the basic conflicts offer no real surprises. In essence, what director Ridley Scott has done here is offer up his own version of brother Tony’s 2001 thriller “Spy Game” and the fact that you probably haven’t thought at all about “Spy Game” since it came out is a pretty good indicator of just how memorable “Body of Lies” truly is.

The basic premise of the film is certainly intriguing enough. Leonardo DiCaprio is Roger Ferris, a CIA operative based in the Middle East whose job is uncover terrorist plots by recruiting locals to help infiltrate various cells and supply him with important information. Because he has taken the time to get to know the land and the people and is willing to work hand in hand with the locals, such as Jordainian intelligence chief Hani Salaam (Mark Strong), he is able to extract useful information to be used in the global war on terror. Unfortunately, his low-key and exacting methods fly in the face of his boss back in the States, Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe), who relies more on technology to gather and assess information and who takes the more pragmatic approach of striking while the iron is hot instead of letting things play out in order to get more information that might be more useful in the long run. Ferris clearly doesn’t like his boss or his methods but his utter dedication to the job keeps him going back into the fray instead of simply quitting for his own good.

The chief bad guy that Ferris is pursuing is Al-Saleem (Alon Aboutboul), a rarely-seen terrorist mastermind who has been behind a series of bombings around the world that he takes credit for specifically by not taking credit for them. Having already missed him once before, Ferris hits upon an ingenious method of flushing him out from hiding. Using his contacts and the unwitting participation of a civilian architect who has no idea what is going on, Ferris will create the illusion of a bigger and better-funded terrorist group that is causing even more of a ruckus than Al-Saleem’s--the idea is that Al-Saleem will want to contact the faux-group about pooling their resources and Ferris can use this information to finally nab him. Inevitably, the plan falls apart at the worst possible time, the architect is brutally murdered and Ferris finds himself at the wrong end of the bargaining table with Al-Saleem and only Hoffman and his technology can possible save him from certain death..

On a surface level, there are a lot of things to like about “Body of Lies.” Like virtually every Ridley Scott film, it is both visually stunning and paced in such a way that it whips us from one location to another across the globe and from one story development to another without ever getting bogged down or confused. The action sequences are nicely put together and have enough respect for spatial geography so that we always have a clear understanding of where the principal players are in regards to everyone else. The performances from the two leads are both impressive as well--although he might seem to be a little young to convincingly play a veteran CIA op, DiCaprio does a very good job of putting forth the kind of quicksilver intelligence that a person in his shoes would need to survive in his situation while Crowe is equally convincing as the superior whose increasing reliance on the miracles of technology has apparently inspired both his mind and body to go slightly to seed as a result. Best of all, Scott demonstrates at certain points here that he is one of those pure filmmakers who can tell a story and get his salient points across entirely through visual means--the moment in which all of Hoffman’s high-tech gadgets are effectively undermined by Al-Saleem’s men in the simplest manner possible serves as a potent reminder that unless you have a firm and ground-level grasp on the people and the lands that you are trying to keep constant tabs on, not even the most elaborate toys in the world will be able to really help you.

Unfortunately, as the film goes on, it becomes evident that while William Monahan’s screenplay (based on the novel by David Ignatius) wants to be seen as a complex look at the current geopolitical situation in the manner of “Syriana,” it just doesn’t have the willingness to embrace the confusion and complexities of such an approach. For one thing, the basic story doesn’t really have much to specifically say about the Iraq War and how we are waging it--with just a few changes in the details, the basic story could take place in any other world hotspot from the last couple of decades. Instead or layering in the kind of details that might have made it more specific and realistic, the film instead detours in order to supply a presumably crowd-pleasing romance between DiCaprio’s character and a local Muslim nurse (Golshifteh Farahani) who gets to make goo-goo eyes at him and who has a more conservative sister who gets to dress Ferris down with her complaints about the American presence in her land. On their own, these scenes aren’t that bad--the screenplay avoids too much melodrama until the climax and DiCaprio and Farahani work well together--but all they do is help dissipate the building tension with stuff that really doesn’t have any bearing on the proceedings. Worst of all, the screenplay doesn’t really seem to have any idea of what it is trying to say or how to go about saying it--after nearly two hours of waiting for the story to come to some kind of point, all it can offer up is a standard-issue slam-bang climax and a denouement that is so wishy-washy that as the end credits begin to roll, you may wonder why Scott decided to stick on a new Guns & Roses track over them when Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is?” would have been more appropriate.

As I said earlier, “Body of Lies” has its virtues and I suspect that enough people may respond to them to make it the first Iraq-themed film to do decently at the box-office. However, when you consider the fact that it was made by Ridley Scott, the man whose “Black Hawk Down” is one of the great modern military films and whose “Kingdom of Heaven” showed, at least in its full-length director’s cut version, a genuine interest in Muslim culture and demonstrated that understanding an enemy is the first and most important step to meeting them in combat, the essential superficiality on display here is a real disappointment. For a film that is focused so completely on the world of intelligence, it is sadly ironic that it is the very lack of same that keeps “Body of Lies” from being the great movie that it really should have been.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=17090&reviewer=389
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
10/15/08 PAUL SHORTT DISJOINTED, OVERLONG, CONFUSING AND EXTREMELY DULL 1 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
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  10-Oct-2008 (R)
  DVD: 17-Feb-2009

UK
  N/A

Australia
  10-Oct-2008
  DVD: 17-Feb-2009




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