“Body of Lies” was supposed to be different. It has famed director Ridley Scott behind the camera, the same man who did such an incredible job in clearly portraying the chaos in Somalia in “Black Hawk Down”. And its stars were Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio, two of the best actors working today. How could it miss?
That may be debated for some time, because “Body of Lies” does miss. Maybe not as badly as “Lions for Lambs”, but it is still quite disappointing considering the expectations going in. Six months ago, I was looking forward to this as perhaps the first great movie on the subject of the events now transpiring in the Middle East. Instead, it is nothing more than a lukewarm rehash of Peter Berg’s “The Kingdom”, with all of the same plot devices, half the chemistry, and a quarter of the suspense.
The movie is an adaptation of former Washington Post columnist David Ignatius’s 2007 spy novel concerning the inner workings of the CIA as they try to track down a bomb maker responsible for multiple attacks on civilian targets in Europe. DiCaprio plays Roger Ferris, one of the top up-and-coming field agents in the Middle East. Intelligent, dedicated, fearless, and able to speak flawless Arabic, Ferris is pretty much Jason Bourne without the angst.
Pulling all the strings back at Langley is Ed Hoffman, played to country good-old-boy charm (and barely hidden menace) by Crowe. Hoffman is shown in almost every scene shot in the U.S. talking on his headset to Ferris while simultaneously conducting family business like taking pictures of his young daughter’s soccer game.
Ferris starts the movie in Iraq, but his cover is soon blown…along with his car and the skull of his Iraqi national partner (warning; this movie is not for the squeamish). For a few minutes, Ferris is burned out enough by the double-dealing and the shoddy way the CIA treats the local informants to consider hanging it up. Instead, Hoffman cajoles him into going to Jordan, and taking over operations there…something Ferris agrees to so quickly that you really wonder how seriously he was considering quitting.
Once there, Ferris quickly fires the existing station chief, and works his way into the trust of Jordan’s Chief of Intelligence, Hani Salaam (well played my Mark Strong). Hani is a suave and powerful figure, seemingly very honest, but with a very wide cruel streak. Ferris and Hani develop a shaky mutual alliance as they continue to track down the mysterious Al-Saleem, but this partnership is tested when Ferris concocts an elaborate scheme to draw the elusive terrorist out of hiding by preying on the bombmaker’s enormous ego.
In some ways, this film plays out as an grittier version of “24”, with the high tech spying, electronic tampering, and the ability for any genius with a laptop to access any computer in the entire world in a matter of seconds. But at other points, it seems to give what would appear to the viewer as a good look inside the inner workings of the CIA regarding how they utilize (and callously use) assets and money to maintain the security needed to keep the bad guys away.
That is where Ridley Scott misses most. He can’t seem to make up his mind whether some of these methods are necessary for the better good of the United States and Europe, or if it is a criminal disregard of laws and lives by bureaucrats more interested in power than people. This is personified by Ed Hoffman; you never really get a clear idea of what he’s after. One scene he’s shown as a man deeply caring about his country, his family, and Roger Ferris. Then in the next scene he is running some counter op that screws up Ferris’ plans…and apparently doing so just because he can. Crowe is a great actor, and is always a joy to watch onscreen in these types of roles, but he’s playing a man who the script has left with no depth.
The same fate befalls DiCaprio, who is in 90% of the scenes. Who is Roger Ferris? Scott never tells you. You find out halfway through the film that he has degrees from the University of North Carolina, but all that explains is the really, really bad accent he uses every now and then. Now living in North Carolina, and being a product of their University system, I can attest that a true North Carolinian city accent is very tough…very different from your stereotypical “Mayberry, RFD” NC country accent. In fact, it is so subtle that Leo would have been better off not trying it at all. Outside of the quasi-accent, you get very little inside information into the mind of Ferris.
But that’s not the worst thing Leo had to deal with. No, the worst was the introduction of a “love interest” in the form of a local Jordanian nurse. Ferris first meets cute with her while in a local clinic to get rabies vaccinations after being bitten multiple times by a couple of pissed off German Shepherds. Ferris, who earlier was seen being fairly nonchalant about his wife divorcing him, is smitten, and this leads to some painfully bad courting scenes that were completely unbelievable.
That an intelligence officer of such high regard would do so many unsafe things for the sake of someone he just met stretches logic to the breaking limit, as do the final scenes that once again steal much of their plotline from “The Kingdom”. Yes, there is a good twist towards the end that probably garnered another half football…but that’s about it.
All told, you can tell in a movie like this just how good Crowe and DiCaprio really are…because they still make this movie somewhat watchable, despite everything else going wrong in it.
The fault of this disappointment rests solely with Ridley Scott. He’s been very hit and miss lately, succeeding very well with last years excellent “American Gangster”, but flopping horribly the year before with “A Good Year”.
“Body of Lies” isn’t as bad as that clunker, and it is certainly superior to the last time Scott based a movie in the Middle East, with the totally awful “Kingdom of Heaven”. “Body of Lies” isn’t a horrible movie…but given the group involved, it should have been so much better.
My Rating – Kelly Holcomb: 2 footballs
Otto Graham: Over 4 Footballs. HOF quality movie
Bernie Kosar: 4 Footballs. Excellent
Brian Sipe: 3 ½ Footballs. Very Good
Frank Ryan: 3 Footballs. Good
Bill Nelsen: 2 ½ Footballs. OK. Well worth seeing.
Kelly Holcomb: 2 Footballs. Disappointingly inconsistent but some bright spots.
Tim Couch: 1 ½ Footballs. Poor. Had potential, but lack of support led to an overall stinker.
Jeff Garcia: 1 Football. Horrible. All hype; no performance.
Mike Phipps: ½ Football. “We gave away Paul Warfield for THIS?” level of suck
Spergon Wynn: No Footballs. UberSuckitude personified.
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