Body of Lies will probably get credit as the first Iraq War movie that people actually bother to see. It's misleading, though, to assume that the movie has anything to do with politics in general, or that war specifically; it's mostly a thriller involving double-crosses and moral ambiguity, using the bombed-out desert as its backdrop. The movie is fine by your general thriller standards, but not up to the usual standard of its creators, and either unable or unwilling to have anything to say about the War on Terror it pretends to be part of.
Leonardo DiCaprio, one of the best parts of this average-at-best movie, stars as CIA operative Roger Ferris, who spends his time all over the Middle East smoking out Al-Qaeda operatives by whatever means necessary. He's guided from Washington, via frequent cell phone conversations, by Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe), a pudgy and sarcastic Southerner who has little use for the Middle East at all, and can't bother with questioning the purpose of the Iraq War. All he cares about is winning the thing.
Early in the movie Ferris loses his driver when they're attacked while investigating an al-Qaeda safehouse in the desert; his regret over the loss, along with a later flirtation with an Iranian nurse (Golshifteh Fahrani), is the only character development we get for the guy, who is amorphous and bland in the way of the old private eyes. Hoffman isn't even that lucky. Though Crowe gets in a few funny jokes, and is seen caring for his kids while telling Ferris to kill people over across the ocean, Hoffman is a plot device more than an actual human. Crowe gained a substantial amount of weight for the role, and it's completely unclear why he bothered.
The plot, which doesn't really get going until about an hour in, finds Ferris and Hoffman inventing their own terrorist agency, in order to smoke out and intimidate al-Saleem. They pick an innocent Dubai architect as their fall guy, and execute the scheme behind the back of Hani Salaam (Mark Strong), the Jordanian defense minister who had been their best ally to that point. Hoffman teams up with a British tech genius (Simon McBurney) who can apparently ruin a man's life with a few keystrokes, which is cool, unless you've seen the dozen other cyber thrillers that have come out every year since the Internet was invented.
The main story is surrounded by a remarkable amount of clutter, with Ferris following false leads and trying to earn Hani Salaam's trust, which Hoffman immediately destroys when he arrives in Jordan with his brash American attitude in tow. There's also the romance angle, which finds Ferris on a date--no joke--in a Palestinian refugee camp. Director Ridley Scott seems to be aiming for a broader portrait of the Middle East and terrorism in general, what with its detours all over the globe and with countless minor characters, but the picture never adds up. Packed with fictional characters and out-there technology, Body of Lies has no real-world implications, and therefore no punch.
As a globe-hopping, us vs. them thriller, Body of Lies isn't half bad, sprinkling in well-shot action and some moments of genuine suspense. But despite DiCaprio's best efforts to carve out a real human among the noise and faux-moralizing of the story, and Strong's powerful supporting performance, Scott offers no real reason to care about this parallel-universe version of our war on terror. Even with constant references to Guantanamo and the Green Zone, it feels as outdated as if it were set during the Cold War.
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