On paper “Body of Lies” is about as close to a sure thing as you can get. It stars three-time Academy Award nominee Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe, who was nominated for three of his own and has won once. It was directed by Ridley Scott, who also has three Academy Award nods, and is one of the most celebrated filmmakers working today. On top of all that, its screenplay was penned by William Monahan, the man who wrote “The Departed.” For the record he won an Academy Award for that film. With that kind of pedigree, how could “Body of Lies” be anything less then a homerun? Well, even Ryan Howard has to settle for a double every now and again.”Body of Lies” tells the story of Roger Ferris (DiCaprio), a CIA agent working undercover to capture a terrorist leader called Al-Saleem.
Ferris is the man in the trenches, dodging bullets and getting his hands dirty while his boss, Ed Hoffman (Crowe) lives the good life safely back in America. Hoffman casually sends Ferris and his fellow agents into danger the same way someone playing chess would a pawn. Ferris and Hoffman’s contentious relationship is at the heart of the movie.
The two are constantly at odds over how to handle the situations that arise, with each thinking they know better then the other. Hoffman is also involved in more double deals then even Captain Jack Sparrow could possibly dream of. These double deals add to the tension between Hoffman and Ferris and further complicate things as Ferris attempts to cultivate a friendly working relationship with the head of Jordanian Intelligence named Hani Salaam (Mark Strong). It’s hard to say too much more about the plot for fear of giving something away, but suffice to say things bog down a bit in the middle before the explosive climax that makes you forget all about the second act’s problems.
The biggest thing “Body of Lies” has going for it is Leonardo DiCaprio, who is currently riding a hot streak for the ages. Everything he has touched, starting with 2002’s “Gangs of New York” has been pure gold.
Things show no sign of letting up either for the 34-year-old actor as he reunites with his “Titanic” co-star Kate Winslet in this winter’s “Revolutionary Road.”
The last time these two were in a movie together box office records were shattered, so naturally there is a lot of excitement surrounding this film. Next year he stars in Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island,” based on the novel by Dennis Lehane, who also wrote “Mystic River.”
The biggest thing working against “Body of Lies,” is Monahan’s script. The second act is at best very confusing. In the hands of a lesser director and cast it could have doomed the film. Fortunately for Monahan, he has DiCaprio, Crowe and Scott to bail him out.
It never stops being fun to watch Crowe and DiCaprio’s back and forth phone arguments, and Scott’s visuals are as breathtaking as ever.
Scott dives right in to the high-tech world of modern espionage. He uses everything from surveillance cameras to satellites to keep track of his globetrotting cast and he delivers more then enough eye-popping shots to make you forget that you really don’t know what is going on.
Monahan shouldn’t be held totally responsible for the faults in “Body of Lies.”
For starters, he is working in a genre that is next to impossible to have success in. Very few political thrillers are successful, either commercially or critically, and the road is littered with failed attempts.
Just ask George Clooney, whose “Syriana” was a mess, despite winning him an Academy Award. Also, the argument could be made that in the hands of a less talented writer “Body of Lies” could have been a flat-out disaster, instead of just confusing in the middle.
Crowe is on his game here, though he does manage to get overshadowed by DiCaprio. Its not Crowe’s fault though, DiCaprio is just red-hot at the moment.
The rest of the film’s cast is solid, but miles behind its leading men. Strong does do a fine job as the mysterious head of Jordanian Intelligence.
From beginning to end “Body of Lies” is uneven but enjoyable. It walks the thin line between action and politics, without straying too far into either camp. Its theme of young men fighting the wars of old men is a timely one, especially in our current, politically charged climate. Another testament to the film’s very talented cast and crew is the fact that “Body of Lies” makes its point without preaching, something that is almost unheard of in Hollywood today.
Colin McGlinchey is a fourth-year student majoring in English with a minor in journalism. He can be reached at CM646588@wcupa.edu