Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott once again reteam, this time with Leonard Dicaprio in the political espionage thriller Body of Lies. Dicaprio is deserving of first billing in this case. His character, Roger Ferris, is a CIA operative almost on his own in the Middle East faced with the risky task of capturing terrorist masterminds. His liaison to Washington, Ed Hoffman (Crowe), tackles the even tougher task of using a phone’s earpiece/mic accessory without chucking the handset at hotel clerks. Ultimately, I felt lied to.
I’m a fan of the first two talents mentioned, and I see Dicaprio making great strides. Dicaprio used to have a penchant for playing the naïve recruit. I would cringe at his appearance, as it was a sure signal of a plot circling his character’s learning. Face it; he has the baby face factor of Ralph Macchio. It was with Blood Diamond that he started to gain some relevance; bearded, he can fire a gun from the get-go. The facial hair is again applied to give him some gravitas. Agent Ferris is quick witted, speaks with a southern drawl, but isn’t a mockery. His mission objective is to capture terrorist Al-Saleem. Through the process he tries the patience of anyone willing to help him, if he doesn’t get them killed. Meanwhile, the seemingly househusband Hoffman tries to run the show from abroad.
Marks against the film are easy to find. The chief development is that Al-Saleem is too tough to grab by traditional means. Ferris cooks up a scheme to create a fake terrorist for Al-Saleem to contact in admiration. This development should have occurred sooner in the film, but this is coming from a guy who wisely made a film in which the title character didn’t appear for an hour (Alien). In more recent outings, Scott has utilized a now signature approach to action. The camera utilizes a jarring frame rate, first seen in Gladiator, making the action difficult to comprehend on the big screen. There is a short foot chase in which I had no idea what was happening. New characters are introduced steadily for the first hour, and many are expendable or slow things down. Worth mentioning on sheer annoyance is the repeated text on black informing us of a change in location. A film shouldn’t turn into an episode of Law and Order.
Advertising media for this film is misleading. That doesn’t bother me, as I like the misdirection. We shouldn’t be able to predict the outcome just from a few commercials. Consumers don’t usually enjoy that kind of treatment. Most of you want to get what you paid for. That attitude is understandable, except in cinema where you defy the opportunity to be surprised. That is why so many ads give away the film they are trying to promote. For Body of Lies, the ads make it appear as though Dicaprio has been cut off and left for dead by Crowe, and it goes further to suggest that he is seeking revenge. This is completely false. In fact the scuffle shown in early trailers, is nothing more than joking around in the sense of the narrative. I know that by even stating this I’m giving away what might be a surprise, but from a logical story standpoint the twist depicted in the ads is ridicules. There is an even better example of false advertising in placing Crowe’s name on the poster. His screen time is sparse and only serves the purpose of being a finger to point at for the expression of a political agenda.
Body of Lies isn’t a complete mess. It may surprise you that in a film of this star power, the best performances come from Mark Strong and Golshifteh Farahani. I also liked the development in the plot which surrounds their characters, but to go into that would be against my code. There is plenty of thinking to do during Body of Lies. If that is your kind of thing, then give it a try, just don’t expect anything award winning. **½