"BODY OF LIES" (2008) Review
Based upon David Ignatius’ 2007 novel, "BODY OF LIES" told the story of a CIA operative assigned to track down a Middle Eastern terrorist responsible for a series of bombings in Europe. Directed by Ridley Scott, the movie stars Leonard DiCaprio and Russell Crowe. When I first saw the trailer for "BODY OF LIES" three years ago, I thought it would be about a CIA operative in the Middle East that ends up clashing with his handler over an assignment. As it turned out, the trailer ended up being misleading. In the end, I had no choice but to sit back and see what the movie’s plot would lead me. Despite Warner Brothers’ very misleading trailer.
Leonard DiCaprio portrayed a CIA operative named Roger Ferris. He is assigned by his handler, Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe) to track down a terrorist by the name of Al Salim. Upon following up a lead, Ferris' asset (who he has become good friends with) is killed in a car blast in a car chase and he is sent to Jordan. There, Ferris makes contact with Hani Salaam (Mark Strong), head of the Jordanian General Intelligence Department, or GID. Salaam tells Ferris to never lie to him. Hoffman finds an Al Salim safe house in Jordan and tells Ferris to conduct a surveillance operation on it. Meanwhile, Hoffman organizes another operative to conduct an operation without Ferris' consent. The other agent screws the operation up and blows his cover after saying something compromising to a terrorist from the safe house. The terrorist takes off running, intent on relaying information that the safe house is being watched. Ferris chases him down and kills him by stabbing him, getting bitten by dogs in the process. Hani covers up the killing by passing it off as a robbery and Ferris accuses Hoffman of running "side operations”, telling Hoffman to lay off. Meanwhile, Ferris meets a nurse named Aisha (Golshifteh Farahani), who treats his wound. He eventually falls in love with her – an act that proves to have consequences later in the movie.
As I had stated earlier, "BODY OF LIES" proved not to be about a clash between Ferris and Hoffman over a case. It proved to be about the deceptions perpetrated by those in the intelligence community, dedicated to the "war on terrorism". Unfortunately, the deceptions used by Hoffman upon both Ferris and Salaam ended up affecting the careful alliance established between the latter two. Even Ferris got into the game when he failed to inform Salaam about the con job he and Hoffman had created to flush out Al Salim. In the end, both Americans end up getting the surprises of their lives.
Despite my initial misgivings that I had been deceived by the movie’s trailer, "BODY OF LIES" turned out to be an intriguing and entertaining movie. Although the story’s three main characters – Ferris, Hoffman and Salaam – are supposed to be allies in the fight against terrorism and in the hunt for Al Salim, they spend more time in conflict against each other than against the story’s main antagonist. This especially seemed to be the case of Hoffman, who comes across as a manipulative and controlling man who keeps his secrets a little too close to his chest – to the detriment of Ferris. Screenwriters William Monahan (Oscar winner for "THE DEPARTED") and Ignatius, who also wrote the novel, created a pretty solid screenplay. However, I would not say there was anything exceptional about it – except for the finale. Perhaps the story’s lack of anything sensational had led to the movie’s failure at the box office. Or perhaps Warner Brothers’ misleading trailer was the real culprit.
Leonardo DiCaprio once again proved why he has become one of the most talented actors of his generation. His Roger Ferris is a fierce, intelligent man with a sardonic streak a mile wide. He also has a talent for diplomacy, which is apparent in his dealings with Salaam and the Jordan Intelligence Department. Like Ferris, Russell Crowe’s Ed Hoffman is a fierce and dedicated opponent of terrorism. Unfortunately, he lacks Ferris’ talent for diplomacy and has a tendency to allow his arrogance to get the best of him. But I must admit that Hoffman is a fascinating character and one can thank Crowe's superb acting and William Monahan’s writing for this. Crowe manages to hide Hoffman’s aggression, cold-bloodedness and arrogance behind a "good 'old boy" façade that project a cheerful persona with a penchant for calling Ferris "buddy". Some of the movie’s more interesting scenes featured Hoffman giving Ferris cold-blooded instructions or advice on how to deal with the hunt for Al Salim, while interacting lovingly with his family. It was like watching compartimenlization at its most extreme.
The supporting cast included British actor Mark Strong as Hanni Salaam as the head of Jordan Intelligence. First impressed by Strong’s villainous turn in the 2007 movie, "STARDUST", my admiration for Strong increased by his portrayal of the intelligent and strong-willed Salaam, who refuses to be intimidated by Hoffman and the CIA’s firepower in his demand for respect by his Western allies. Iranian-born actress Golshifteh Farahani gave a solid performance as Aisha, the no-nonsense and witty nurse with whom Ferris falls in love.
"BODY OF LIES" is not as exceptional as one might expect it to be, considering the two leads, the director and the screenwriters. It is an entertaining, solid thriller filled with interesting and ambiguous characters. Through characters like Salaam and Aisha, the movie manages to avoid the usual clichés about Middle Eastern characters. The best thing I can say about it – aside from the excellent acting – is the plot twist that surprised me in the end. It may not be Oscar material, but it is certainly not crap.