Body of Lies

Exceedingly unmemorable spy caper.

Released in 2008, certified UK-15. Reviewed on 16 Dec 2008 by Scott Morris
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I'm informed that Sir Lord The Ridley of Scott has used the current Iraq situation and ancillary disasters as subject matter for a film at least once before, in the shape of Kingdom of Heaven. That, frankly, is a tenuous connection at best, but the big smoking crater on the ground is tackled rather more directly in Body of Lies, as we look at the cloak and dagger world of C.I.A. operations in, after a prologue of sorts, Jordan.

Cloaking and daggering is Roger Ferris (Leonardo De Caprio), rising star in the middle ease division sent by section chief Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe) into the Jordan office to deal with a known safehouse for a group of extremists who have been busy making things explode that ordinarily would not explode. Headed by Al-Saleem (Alon Aboutboul), an elusive and rarely seen Bin Laden analogue, this represents a rare and hard-won opportunity to flush out and deal with him, aided by the Jordanian secret police and their dashing boss, Hani (Mark Strong).

It's a dangerous business, this spy lark, and things rarely go exactly to plan. This leads to the formulation of an alternative plan that is quite breathtaking in its audacity, scope, and outright idiocy, to the point that it's almost on a believability par with Eagle Eye. Even before this, the out and out reactionary nonsense that Ed Hoffman spouts might be seen as a comment on the, ahh, impulsiveness of the Bush administration, but in terms of giving the character any gravitas at all it's something of a failure. Which, I concede, might be the point.

De Caprio would hold up better, were he not on comedy accent duty, and the only person coming out of this with much credibility is Strong's excellently duplicitous Hani. As an example of spycraft, it may well be doing a good job of stripping the glamour from the job but it also seems to be attempting to remove the Intelligence part of the CIA. Coupled with an entirely tacked on love interest subplot that seems to exist less to allow identification with Roger Ferris as it does to allow the film's ending to happen and structurally, this film's starting to look a little weak.

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Given that the rest of it's not quite as clever as it thinks it is, this is starting to look a little like something of a lost cause. The first time Hoffman conducts his official, shady business over a hands-free mobile while helping his kid to the toilet, the juxtaposition is kinda cute. When it happens nigh on every damn time he's on screen it starts to look rather forced. Scott seems inordinately proud of the fact that he never shows Hoffman in his office, with the justification that agents would be on the move, gathering information and all that. That's true. FOR FIELD AGENTS. WHO ARE IN THE FIELD. Rather less so for, say, office based staff. Like Ed Hoffman. As such it makes Ed Hoffman look less like a dynamic, go-getting member of the intelligence community and more like a serial skiver.

The only stance that seems vaguely considered is the use of torture in interrogations, and while Scott himself takes a commendably ambivalent view of where lines should be drawn balanced with possible consequences of not getting information in time and doesn't , the film seems to take a rather more definite stance that as a process it simply doesn't work. You need to be far more sneaky and reprehensible to get real results, seems to be the take home from Body of Lies.

Whether you'll take that home or not is open to debate, as is whether you ought to watch the thing in the first place. I'd have to advise against it. While, as befits the talent behind and in front of the camera it's far from an unwatchable film, it's well below the quality you'd expect from them. It says little of direct relevance, little of real interest and little that's worth hearing. Boo. Boo-urns.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 3/5 TippyMarks.

Ridley Scott
Cast list:
Leonardo DiCaprio (Roger Ferris)
Russell Crowe (Ed Hoffman)
Mark Strong (Hani)
Golshifteh Farahani (Aisha)