Saturday, March 21, 2009

Body of Lies

Director: Ridley Scott
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Golshifteh Farahani, Vince Colosimo, Mark Strong

Running Time: 128 min.

Rating: R

★★ 1/2 (out of ★★★★)

The worst offense committed by the political espionage thriller Body of Lies is that it fails to bring anything new to an already tired and uninspired genre. In a first, I actually found myself somewhat disappointed that the film wasn't worse or it didn't fail in a more interesting way. Given that it's directed by Ridley Scott and co-stars thespian heavyweights Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio it shouldn't be a surprise that despite a thin story it still just barely misses the mark. What is kind of surprising is how run-of-the-mill it is. Although, given its uninspired Lifetime TV movie of the week title and embarrassing promotional artwork, that may not be surprising either. It's more likely to call to mind a Direct-To-DVD clunker from the '90's starring Sean Young or Richard Grieco than the latest effort from an Academy Award winning filmmaker.

Marketing notwithstanding, this was basically destined to be a technically proficient effort featuring a pair of good performances and nothing more. And that's exactly what it is. It won't be remembered as a career highlight for anyone involved, but thanks to some exciting action sequences and impressive location shooting it isn't a complete wash. Just thank Scott for at least not shoving a political agenda down our throats and just telling the story, as uninvolving as it may be.

The plot is somewhat complicated, though not really when you think about it...or don't. DiCaprio is cocky C.I.A. field agent Roger Ferris, sent to the Middle East to take out a deadly al-Queda like terrorist organization led by Osama Bin Laden wannabe Al-Saleem (Alon Aboutboul). He's aided via headset and high tech survailence in this mission by his boss back in the states, Ed Hofffman (Crowe in gray-haired, paunchy Insider mode). He keeps track of him by satellite in between attending his children's soccer games. They make an uneasy bedfellow in the head of Jordan's Intelligence Agency, Hani Salaam (Mark Strong) as Ferris's emerging romantic relationship with a pretty local nurse (Golshifteh Farahani) threatens the entire operation.

There's a lot of ideas and action jammed into writer William Monahan's (The Departed) script and surprisingly more than enough to justify the film's over 2 hour running time. It's never boring since Scott is the kind of director who knows how to make things crackle visually, but the problem is I just didn't care about anything that happened or who it happened to and every plot point seemed well mapped out in advance. There's some intrigue involving the motives of the Jordanian intelligence officer and some resonating cultural observations involving the nurse's relationship with Ferris, but other than that we're just waiting for the clock to run out.

Luckily, we're left waiting with DiCaprio and Crowe, actors incapable of giving bad performances in anything. That said, this won't go down as either's strongest work. Especially DiCaprio, who seems to be delivering a less potent version of his Oscar nominated role in Blood Diamond while distractingly slipping in and out of a southern drawl. Crowe fares better except the part seems underwritten and almost inconsequential at times. He's good, but it could have been played by just about anyone as effectively. The two don't share screen time for most of the first hour but when they do finally square off it can't help but feel like a letdown considering how pedestrian the rest of the picture is.

We're also in the hands of a director who knows how to keep it moving at a brisk pace and stage exciting action sequences. There's an authenticity to the film that wouldn't be there if a less talented lensman were at the helm. While sharing the same relentless style as Scott's Black Hawk Down it doesn't contain nearly as much substance, but at least he does a good enough job hiding it while Monahan's script is thankfully lacking in the preachy ulterior motives that sunk last year's embarrassing trifecta of Rendition, Stop-Loss and Lions for Lambs.

This doesn't pretend to be any more than what it is and as a result it isn't. Ridley Scott is too talented a director to be wasting his time on projects that should go to his brother Tony. This may as well be called Enemy of the State 2. Coming up for Scott is his cinematic interpretation of the board game Monopoly and it speaks pathetic volumes that during this my thoughts turned to it as the potentially more intriguing project. At least its different and if a crazy idea like that fails it'll at least do so memorably. It's disconcerting to consider that Hollywood has run dry of ideas but after watching something like Body of Lies I start to worry if it's a real possibility.


Layne said...

Agreed, Body of Lies wasn't as great as it could have been. As a big Russell Crowe fan, I enjoyed it anyway!

Taru said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Taru said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.