Body of Lies is the latest in a new breed of spy pictures designed to undo the fantasy world chiefly created by the James Bond series. Here, there's nothing romantic about the world of espionage, for every day offers the main character a whole slew of opportunities to potentially wind up six feet under. Body of Lies is still a crackerjack thriller, but instead of creating those thrills via aimless gunplay and car chases, it gives viewers a pretty good idea of how dangerous it is to be in the spy business.
Since the story is about halfway between The Kingdom and Syriana, director Ridley Scott approaches William Monahan's screenplay with a certain degree of complexity. The key players in this spy game are CIA operative Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his pudgy superior, Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe). While the latter leads a cushy lifestyle on American soil, it's Ferris who puts himself in harm's way on a regular basis. It's his job to get as uncomfortably close to terrorist organizations as is possible, grasping whatever info he can on their latest goings-on.
Ferris' latest assignment has him racing to get the lowdown on Al-Saleem (Alon Aboutboul), a Muslim extremist who's masterminded numerous bombings all across Europe. In order to pinpoint the fiend's center of operations, Ferris enters an uneasy alliance with Hani (Mark Strong), the head of Jordanian security. However, this results in a healthy amount of conflict, as Hoffman continues to operate without the slightest care of what Hani thinks, leaving Ferris scrambling to do whatever it takes to both finish the job and stay alive.
As all-around solid a picture Body of Lies is, it's hard not to feel a twinge or two of disappointment considering the talent involved. Not only is the star power covered, but guiding all the players around are acclaimed director Scott and screenwriter Monahan, who recently won an Oscar for penning The Departed. But don't let this lead you to believe that Body of Lies is a modern masterpiece showing viewers the way to the cinematic promised land. It's a pretty good film, but it's not a great one.
The flick resembles a grittier, more violent version of a Tom Clancy adventure, what Clear and Present Danger would look like if smacked upside the head with the reality stick. Scott and crew recognize that viewers would probably nod off if the turn of events unfolded in a more traditional fashion, so they've devised a method of storytelling sure to keep people on their toes. The plot crisscrosses the globe in lightning fast instances, alliances change at the drop of a hat, and, in general, nothing is as it seems. Yet the trick is that Scott pulls all this off without it ever feeling cheap, lightly testing the audience's suspension of disbelief where lesser filmmakers would set out to obliterate it.
Scott keeps Body of Lies fairly grounded by keeping his attitude toward the characters grounded. While their actions will eventually benefit the good ol' U.S. of A., it's how Ferris and Hoffman go about their jobs that isn't so squeaky clean. Ferris practices the art of deception on a day-to-day basis, and as the story takes intriguing turns and branches out into thought-provoking directions, his own moral code becomes more and more strained in the process.
DiCaprio, who's proven himself to be more than a pretty boy actor, takes on the part with an anti-action hero slant, playing Ferris as a man who can hardly relish his successes because of how close he came to blowing everything. Strong also serves up a very good supporting performance as Hani, who's an ally to Ferris some of the time and a deadly enemy the rest of the time. Surprisingly, though, Crowe gets shortchanged with a pretty thankless role; while Hoffman is supposed to be pulling all the strings, he rarely comes across as more than just a fat guy who keeps yapping into a cell phone. Also, while Golshifteh Farahani is a stunning beauty with many great movies ahead of her, her character's romance with Ferris is one that rings with a few too many false notes.
Still, Body of Lies should be applauded for remaining more heady than the average espionage outing, while including a couple of effective gunfights and torture sequences for good measure. It's the ideal combination of the fall and summer movie season sensibilities, molding brains and bullets into a riveting dramatic thriller that will please most moviegoers.