Entries Comments

Body of Lies Continues Ridley Scott’s Eh, Meh Decade

Body of Lies
Directed by Ridley Scott
Written by William Monahan from the novel by David Ignatius
Warner Bros., 2008

I’ll tell you right upfront that I liked Body of Lies.  But Ridley Scott, probably the most prolific director of this decade (the 71-year-old has made eight freaking movies in the zeroes with one more planned next year), has made a lot of movies that border on greatness that never quite get there.  Last year’s American Gangster was an example.  Black Hawk Down.  And yes, 2000’s Best Picture, Gladiator.  He’s also made some execrable films like Hannibal, A Good Year, and Kingdom of Heaven (which The Departed’s screenwriter William Monahan also wrote).  Probably my favorite of his this decade is Matchstick Men, and even that was only but a trifle.

Perhaps it’s not fair to judge movies on whether they attain the subjective “greatness,” but I get kind of frustrated at being taken to the precipice only to leave the theatre saying, “Yeah, that was good.  I can’t help but think, though…could have been better.”

Meanwhile, Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio reunite for the first time since…does anyone remember Sam Raimi’s 1995 Western The Quick and the Dead?  Crowe was a relative unknown back then, DiCaprio was pre-Titanic in popularity but had already garnered an Oscar nom for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?.  It’s one of my favorite movies that most people I run into hate: You mean that Sharon Stone flick?  Yeah, that’s a way to look at it, I suppose.  I had a lot more fun with it than that.  More fun than this movie, even.  I’ve been going negative on this movie too long, though.  Let’s get on to the story and some positives.

CIA operative Roger Ferris (DiCaprio) is trying to bag a big terrorist, one Al-Saleem (Alon Abutbul).  He begins in Iraq, finding a safe house with some evidence leading him to Jordan and another safe house.  In Jordan, he finds a man named Hani (Mark Strong), who will help Ferris if he always tells the truth and allows certain lessons in intelligence to be taught.  Of course, this will be difficult since Ferris is constantly undermined by his boss, Ed Hoffman (Crowe), a man who tries to be both a CIA guy and a full-time dad to the detriment of both duties.  Hoffman, who constantly has a bird’s-eye view from a satellite plane, a Big Brother-style gadget that isn’t exactly a secret in the Middle East.

While Hani teaches patience, Hoffman, and to a lesser extent, Ferris want to bag the elephant the instant American way, so mistakes are made that not only hurt their efforts but strain relations with Hani.  Another potential mistake Ferris makes is getting involved with a Jordanian nurse, Aisha (the gorgeous Golshifteh Farahani), mostly in the way he doesn’t seem to notice how such a relationship might be viewed by others in the region and how that might hurt him later.

Along the way, we get some torture, some beatings, a lot of explosions…a lot of diverting of attention from what is a very good plot.  At one point Ferris gets a great idea that actually begins to propel the movie to that tense, tasty goodness you hope for in a political thriller, but then something happens to kill the momentum.

In the meantime, you get some good performances.  I would say Mark Strong, who also has the best character in the movie, absconds with this completely.  Strong has a resemblance to Andy Garcia, that suave exterior with a burning anger barely concealed underneath that you see in so many of his performances.  There are a couple of intense action scenes, that one good plot direction that gets ruined, and a decent ending.  It’s a bit too long, and you could do worse at the movies.  Not a ringing endorsement, but overall satisfactory depending on expectation.

Write a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.