Body of Lies
|Leonardo DiCaprio||Roger Ferris|
|Russell Crowe||Ed Hoffman|
|Ali Suliman||Omar Sadiki|
|Shredi Jabarin||Jihad Member|
|Mark Strong||Hani Pasha|
|Directed by||Ridley Scott|
John McCain says he knows how to capture Osama bin Laden. Maybe he's seen a screening of Body of Lies, wherein a terrorist leader is lured out of hiding by a clever ruse that needles his vanity. But a ruse hardly seems necessary, given the astounding technology on display in this movie. Aerial surveillance cameras from drones plying the skies far above the Middle East seem to have the capability to read the postmark on a letter in the hands of a terrorist hurrying across a crowded market square. Maybe John McCain knows all about this, and has been monitoring bin Laden at breakfast every morning. We can only hope that if he loses the election McCain will still tell us how to bring the al-Qaeda chief in.
Body of Lies is a very entertaining espionage action thriller, but you have to bring to it a taste for explosions, a stomach for violence, a tolerance for silliness, and an elastic capacity for the suspension of disbelief.
What makes it work is solid action-movie direction from Ridley Scott (Black Hawk Down), some intriguing plotting and dialogue by William Monahan (The Departed) working from a novel by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, a lot of the slickest sort of special effects wizardry (how do you so convincingly blow up a crowded bazaar?), and some excellent work by a trio of fine actors playing the intelligence operatives around whom all this mayhem revolves.
Leonardo DiCaprio plays Roger Ferris, a tough, wiry, virtually indestructible CIA agent plying the currents of terrorist activity in the Middle East. He's a man with no ties, except to his agency handler back in Langley, a plump, rumpled, ruthless sonofabitch named Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe), who keeps in touch with Ferris by hands-free cell phone while fixing breakfast for his kids or driving them to soccer games. The third member of this triumvirate is Hani Pasha (Mark Strong), the head of Jordanian intelligence. The man is so smooth, such a good dresser, such a consummate man of the world, that you know whomever else gets shot, knifed, maimed, or blown up in this picture, it will most assuredly not be him.
Most of the non-lethal forms of those calamities fall to Ferris. After one particularly grisly explosion a doctor, picking bone fragments out of his arm, reassures him "Don't worry, they're not yours". To the abovementioned mishaps you can add being bitten by rabid dogs. This does not entirely count as a mishap, because it brings him to a clinic staffed by a beautiful nurse, the Iranian expatriate Aisha (Golshifteh Farahani, a name that would make Louis B. Mayer turn over in his grave). The rabies treatment involves a series of five shots, which brings Ferris back to the clinic often enough for romance to blossom; but to tell the truth, she had him at "this is going to hurt".
Ferris is an unusual customer. He's a North Carolina boy who can take a licking and keep on ticking, who speaks fluent Arabic, who has a conscience that allows him to feel really bad when he is responsible for the deaths of innocent civilians and local Arab members of his team, and a diplomatic sensibility that leads him to respect the sensibilities and expectations of foreigners, including Hani.
Hani is a smooth operator who has long ago lost any illusions he might ever have had, and knows that CIA agents only want one thing: to have their way with your intelligence data, and then leave you. When Hoffman boorishly demands to speak directly with the king, Hani informs him "In matters of intelligence, I am the king". He is a man who does not believe in the efficacy of torture, though he does not express himself on the subject of its morality. In their first meeting, Hani warns Ferris "Never lie to me". In plot terms that is a lot like saying "Don't think about elephants". It can't be done.
Hoffman is American realpolitik personified in a dumpy Washington suburbanite. To his way of thinking, nobody is innocent, and no amount of Middle Eastern destruction and slaughter is unjustified if it saves American lives or serves American interests. It is the contrast between the styles of these three men that provides the heat that cooks this meal.
The plot to lure the jihadist chief Al-Saleem (Israeli actor Alon Abutbul) out into the open involves the setting up of a bogus terrorist network and the framing of an innocent businessman, and its conclusion involves trickery, betrayal, judgment softened by romance, an eleventh-hour-fifty-ninth-minute rescue, and oh, did I mention stomach-turning violence?
Which is to say, good solid far-fetched multiplex action-adventure fare in the Bondian mode, with awe-inspiring technology and just enough moral philosophizing laced through it to give the mind a little something to chew on.
© Text 2008 Jonathan Richards - Filmfreak.be