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Review: Body of Lies (2008)

Body of Lies (2008)

Directed by: Ridley Scott

Premise: A CIA field operative (Leonardo DiCaprio) works with Jordanian anti-terrorism officials to track down an Islamic extremist leader while trying to minimize the interference of his scheming supervisor (Russell Crowe).

What Works: Body of Lies has some great performances by Russell Crowe as a pushy and arrogant CIA boss who is willing to use and abuse any relationship in order to accomplish his goals and Mark Strong as the Chief of Jordanian Intelligence, a polished and charismatic man with ambiguous intentions. The whole movie is an elaborate game of chess with multiple players manipulating the figures and the story smartly places DiCaprio’s character between Crowe and Strong’s father figure types, forcing him to try and appease both men while completing his mission. The dialogue is sharp and actually includes a lot of the wry humor that screenwriter William Monahan does so well. As a political thriller, Body of Lies manages to navigate a lot of information and keep it organized and manageable for the audience while not watering it down and the film balances exposition and action very well.

What Doesn’t: The trouble with Body of Lies is its lack of a clear goal or at least a Mcguffin, and that creates a ripple effect that hinders the rest of the picture. The film starts by introducing the lead villain, who the heroes need to defeat, but then that villain disappears for most of the film, only reappearing in the end. Most of the middle of the picture is spent on red herrings that don’t really lead anywhere. The absence of a coherent endgame comes to hurt the conclusion, which does not really resolve any of the issues that the characters have faced. Body of Lies is also troubled by a dependence on convention. The story follows the general template of a spy thriller and rarely deviates from it. This makes the story predictable and keeps Body of Lies from breaking any new ground in the genre or making any profound statements about its subject matter.

Bottom Line: Body of Lies is not a bad film but it’s also not that exceptional. The acting and the characters are great, especially Crowe and Strong, and it adds a lot of sly humor to the subject but in the end the film is just a little under whelming.

Episode: #209 (October 19, 2008)