Kevin's Review: Body of Lies - Probably the Best Thriller of Its Kind
by Kevin Powers
October 10, 2008
Post-9/11 thrillers have come and gone over the years, but none have ever really gotten the recipe right. The Kingdom is too heavy on action; Traitor tries to be too smart; and there's just no redeeming Rendition. It's easy to say that Ridley Scott's Body of Lies is a bit tardy, but I'd prefer to describe the film's entrance into this growing genre as fashionably late. With Scott at the helm, and Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe as leads, Body of Lies is a blockbuster both on paper and in execution. The truth is, it's taken a visionary like Ridley Scott to combine the right ingredients in such a way as to create the only truly compelling film of its kind that, despite dealing with combustible topics, manages not to destroy itself.
DiCaprio stars as cold, calculating CIA Operative Roger Ferris who maintains surprising capability and leadership in-country, despite his young appearance. As the film starts, Ferris is undercover in the Middle East working an asset that he feels can lead him to the big fish, Al-Saleem. Committed to his trade, Ferris deceives his informant in an impressively emotionless way -- a sacrifice that doesn't bear as much fruit as he hoped. These upfront sequences set a base temperature for Ferris' character, which is probably best described as a pragmatically frigid. (I even wonder if Scott purposefully made DiCaprio wear dark contacts as a device to show how truly vacant the guy is.) Eventually, the well-worn agent finds his way to Jordan and continues his white-whale pursuit of Al-Saleem, making deals left, right and backwards.
Though lacking in emotion, Ferris overflows with loyalty. His boss, Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe) is your conventional senior CIA shot-caller, who sits comfortably in his home in Virginia, while his men are on the ground doing the real dirty work. Crowe's character is particularly despicable, because not only does he lead from the comfort of the US, but from the routine of his mini-van. Hoffman's character is actually a bit poorly exaggerated as simultaneously (and unflinchingly) tucking his kid in and directing a kill is just a bit hard to believe. Hoffman becomes increasingly unlikable throughout the film, double-crossing Ferris for what he perceives as the best course of action. His response when confronted by Ferris is a good-ole-boy chortle that manages to wipe the slate clean. Ferris is loyal to a fault - many, in fact.
As Ferris continues to pursue Al-Saleem on the ground, Hoffman furthers his own agenda, which results in a stomach-tightening collision about mid-way through. Action and drama up to this point is pretty solid, especially an early sequence involving two helicopters; but the film ups the suspense a few decibels, setting the stage for an exciting second half. One bit of static that does pervade this portion of the film, however, surrounds Ferris' love interest. It's a plot device that I guess is unavoidable; it's also a tad contrived, seeing as how detached Ferris has been up until this point.
Though Body of Lies does have the intense and sophisticated polish of Ridley Scott, the film does ever-so-slightly stretch the bounds of the believable, both in technology and the acquisition of intelligence - one feeds the other, I suppose. Equally improbable (and frustratingly limp) is the film's last ten minutes. However, despite lofty maneuvers and far-fetched double-crosses, the film stays grounded enough to not only keep you believably at the edge of your seat, but also to instill a bit of actual fear.
By now most of us have heard of the perception that no party is truly innocent in a war, and that, in a way, the US can be seen as just as fanatical in battling the fanatics. This idea is nailed home with Hoffman saying on more than one occasion that "no one is innocent." Scott imbues this idea with such taut, rope-walking suspense that the concept is escalated to a new emotional level. While Scott might take some liberties this time around, he creates a world that is just legitimate enough so show us that true fear isn't to be found in the lies, but in the truth.
Reader Feedback - 18 Comments
OK... covert operative goes behind enemy lines under secret orders, and is double crossed by the man who sent him there... it's Rambo: First Blood Part II... ...just kinda, sorta kidding... Ridley Scott is a great director and I will definitely be checking this one out. I just hope it's another story about how the Muslim extremists are just "virtuous freedom fighters" and America is the only real evil in the world.
Dave Lister, J.M.C. on Oct 10, 2008
OK… covert operative goes behind enemy lines under secret orders, and is double crossed by the man who sent him there… it's Rambo: First Blood Part II… …just kinda, sorta kidding… Ridley Scott is a great director and I will definitely be checking this one out. I just hope it's NOT another story about how the Muslim extremists are just "virtuous freedom fighters" and America is the only real evil in the world. Hate to repost; but I left out a key "not", because I have not had the morning coffee yet...
Dave Lister, J.M.C. on Oct 10, 2008
no comment here. i still weant to see it.
darrin on Oct 10, 2008
Hmm I'm torn, I haven't liked his stuff recently, Kingdom of Heaven had no emotion at all, was campy and cheesy and American Gangster lacked something, maybe Scorsese, but It wasn't so great either, and don't get em started on that vineyard one with Crowe. This one looks good I just don't know if I trust the guy all that much to pay full price for 2 tickets.
Richard on Oct 10, 2008
This is and adaptation of a really good book, why no comparisons made? Seriously.
Darunia on Oct 10, 2008
Ridely is an amazing director, and I like both Crowe and Dicapro so I'm there!
Xerxex on Oct 10, 2008
I'm sure it will do well and folks should DEFINITELTY check it out. This was not for me though....I just don't think I'm on the same wavelength with the last couple of movies (I LOVED Eagle Eye....but HATED Body of Lies). Maybe I needed coffee too before checking it out. Oh well...let's see what Transporter 3 has... 😀
Bry from Chi on Oct 10, 2008
It worked for me for the most part. Agree on the limp, anti-climactic ending. (Opens door for sequels, but doubt it will spawn sequels.)
ben on Oct 10, 2008
The ending is an awesome poetic ending. I don't think it was meant to set up a sequel. It was just poetry.
R. on Oct 11, 2008
I thought Dicaprio's plot lines were a little to sentimental for a CIA field agent neck deep in counter terrorism. The first two thirds of the movie were great. Then Ridley Scott has to ruin it by making it a movie. By this I mean using classic paradigms. As far as best of it's kind goes, didn't Kevin see "Syriana?" Maybe he only watches crappy movies.
sumonesumtime on Oct 11, 2008
There were parts that worked really well, but gone is the great Ridley Scott style, in place is a drab and boring "Bourne-Lite". I felt like Leonardo DiCaprio's character was jarringly unrealistic and both him and Crowe were playing hyperboles that would never be found in the real world. DiCaprio especially as a superhuman undercover operative with a perfect understanding of the middle-eastern perspective. It just felt off. You missed putting it in your comparisons to other films in this genre, but truly, the only successful film out of any of these movies was and still is, the reigning champ, "Syriana". Now that was a truly brilliant and great film with an honest and objective look at the post-9/11 world internationally and in the middle-east with realistic characters who not once felt out of place.
Lincoln on Oct 12, 2008
Really? I would give this a ** out of ****. *SPOILERS* The beginning was provacative and intresting, then it lost its spark throughout. Leo's characterwas so unrealistic and as if he would sacrifice his life for a girl he just met after all the training he has took?
Ryan on Oct 13, 2008
Keith on Oct 13, 2008
I liked The Kingdom much more than this...it felt too long and repetitive and I'm so sick of the double/triple crosses that these films are based on...I'm a big fan of Scott's work so I was depressed walking out of the theater as I thought this would be another masterpiece...alas though I should have seen Quarantine...
Peloquin on Oct 14, 2008
I'm gonna hafta agree with #15 on this one, it's felt to long and drawn out.......ya of course more action may have helped, but it felt like a weak james bond movie......i liked it but near the end i was growing far to impatient and just wanted it to end. Done well but the length, plot (fighting in the middle east kinda repetitive now a days), and all the names you had to remember kinda ruined it.....If anything Dicaprio saves this movie from being a bust.......i'd give it a 6/10...wait to rent
Gangster McSpeed on Oct 14, 2008
Apparently Ridley Scott enjoys working with Russell Crowe; and he likes to make movies that raise international awareness (i'm thinking Blackhawk Down and Kingdom of Heaven)... that's a good thing i'd say
movie fan on Oct 18, 2008
So here I am disagreeing completely... I watched this film earlier tonight and I just felt disappointed by it so much. I wanted to like it because I felt that DiCaprio and Golshifteh Farahani [i.e. Aisha] were so good in the movie. And here I am, I think for the first time, going to have to say that Russell Crowe sucked in this movie. Not only did I not like his character, but I hated his acting... the accent just felt too much and like he was trying too hard to get it right. I've been a fan of the Crowe + Scott combination for a long time, Gladiator, A Good Year and American Gangster [didn't like the movie but Crowe was awesome in it] and here I get the perfect excuse to hate on him. I mean he just can't trust anyone, and it pains me to see him do what he does to Leo's character so many times over and over again in this movie. One thing I did love so much is that the movie basically said that America has a shit Intelligence agency. Everytime CIA wanted something from Jordan, the answer was 'no you don't know how to do it' and then when something actually happens it is because Jordan were allowed to work their way. It's like Hanin said "you cannot keep secrets because you are a democracy". Other than that fact the movie totally only worth an HBO watch. PS. After looking at this I should've just written a review... and I told myself no posting this week.. gah... anyways that's my feelings abt this one Mr. Powers & Mr. Billington
gmanreviews on Oct 24, 2008
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