As a director, Ridley Scott always delivers a visually compelling film with top-notch acting. Even when the film is a miss (like Kingdom of Heaven or A Good Year), they are still pretty nifty to look at. This is the saving grace for Body of Lies.
Scott’s latest film is another attempt by Hollywood to wrap its collective mind around the War on Terror. Historically, these films have not done very well, as evidenced by high-profile bombs like last year’s Lions for Lambs or the more recent low-profile bomb of The Lucky Ones (which made less money in its opening weekend than Disaster Movie made after having been out for five weeks).
The film takes a page from Peter Berg’s The Kingdom (one of the few profitable War on Terror film yet), presenting it as an international thriller rather than a serious character drama. This might very well save its box office, along with Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio in the cast.
Body of Lies follows CIA agent Roger Ferris (DiCaprio) who is on the ground in the Middle East trying to thwart a global terrorist plot. His controller Ed Hoffman (Crowe) pulls the strings from a safe distance in Virginia. With the help of several gray characters in the Muslim world – from a Jordanian bureaucrat to former terror suspects – they try to prevent bombings in the U.S. and the U.K.
I’ll admit that a stumbling block for myself as a big, fat American who doesn’t understand all the nuances of Middle Eastern politics is that the movie was often hard to follow. Like last year’s A Mighty Heart, I was confused at the political twists and turns. If it had been dumbed down like The Kingdom, I might have been able to follow it better, but the story just seemed to be a bit too convoluted for my refined-sugar, fast-food tastes.
In many ways, I was reminded of Scott’s Crusades epic Kingdom of Heaven which had similar bland characters against a politically charged and historically relevant backdrop. However, without knowing the full history behind the film, I was a bit lost. It’s not that I couldn’t figure it out, but I didn’t really care enough about the characters to put forth the effort.
Additionally, the story took several diversions that were unnecessary and boring. Most of these centered around an Iranian woman that Ferris falls for. While her storyline eventually becomes pertinent in the climax of the film, I was utterly disinterested in their relationship and the scenes featuring the two of them going through the dating motions.
Even as the film wrapped up, I wasn’t entirely sure of the message or the point. Oh, it was clear that Ridley Scott has a message for his audience, but it really gets lost in the shuffle… which is just as good ‘cause I’m really tired of Hollywood preaching at me.
The Upside: Looks great and is well acted.
The Downside: Too convoluted of a plot with characters I really didn’t care about.
On the Side: Why does that Jordanian bureaucrat (played by Mark Strong) look so much like Andy Garcia?