Body of Lies

October, 2008, Thriller

Directed by:Ridley Scott

Starring:Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Golshifteh Farahani, Vince Colosimo, and Mark Strong

Talk about a film’s presumptive gilt-edged pedigree; here’s one starring two of Hollywood’s current superstars who can actually act, (Leonardo DiCaprio & Russell Crowe) a script by Academy Award-winner William Monahan (The Departed) and directed by Ridley Scott, the 71-year old British born wunderkind who won his Oscar for Gladiator after providing audiences with such hits as Alien, Thelma & Louise, Blade Runner, and Black Hawk Down. Sporting an expensive production budget and top-flight technical details, this suitably jaundiced view of America’s moral compass in fighting “the war on terror” should be tailor-made for critical acclaim and box office success. 

Wrong on both counts.

In adapting the best-selling espionage novel of the same name by David Ignatius, Monahan and Scott provide a hopelessly muddled storyline punctuated by superbly staged action sequences set amid so many locations it’s nearly impossible to keep up with DiCaprio’s peripatetic C.I.A. field agent and his electronically omnipresent, endlessly cynical superior (Crowe). This oddly-matched pair scheme to thwart foe and friend alike in pursuit of a nebulous collection of Muslim fanatics whose gruesome talents are displayed across the Middle East and Western Europe. As the plot grows ever sillier and DiCaprio’s character ever less credible, Body of Lies limps to a thoroughly implausible ending, whimpering with indecision as it does so. 

As a result, Scott has delivered a movie that runs out of gas well before the ending credits, wasting Crowe’s deliciously perverse performance as a desk-jockey spy whose devotion to global paranoia would make Dick Cheney swell with pride and an equally stunning turn by the little-known British actor Mark Strong who delivers a riveting portrayal as Hani, Jordan’s head of state security. Hani’s as cultured as an Oxford don and slicker than a wet otter, out-maneuvering his American allies with the self-assured insouciance of a master chess player. May this gifted character actor, with dozens of supporting roles already to his credit, receive the opportunity to display his talents in larger parts as a result of his sparkling work in this one. 

Despite some crackling exchanges between the principals and sweeping camera work by cinematographer Alexander Witt that captures Scott’s Moroccan locations, the director never settles on a consistent tone - - he wanders back and forth from James Bond-ian heroics to terse, brooding exchanges more suitable in introspective films like Syriana. Scott doesn’t seem to grasp that, so in the process of delivering thundering gung-ho action sequences and pithy dialogue, all he manages to do is give viewers a case of narrative whiplash. 

DiCaprio’s role becomes the focal point of this off-balance approach. As was true in his last film, (Blood Diamond) the star seems to seek serious social commentary inside audience-pleasing action fare. Here, the same world-weary cynicism so evident in Diamond becomes even less credible; it will be interesting so see if future roles find DiCaprio in more nuanced material that doesn’t strive to marry Errol Flynn heroics with social themes that require more substance.

The verdict? Slick, easy to look at…and as predictable as the outcome of a professional wrestling match on television.

Jake's Takes comments powered by Disqus