Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott once again have the goods in Body of Lies, a serviceable Middle Eastern thriller that is an entertaining ride if not quite the stuff Oscars are made of. With a cast led by Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio, we can't help wishing there was a little more to chew on here. With echoes of recent movies from Syriana to The Kingdom, Body of Lies relies on one too many explosions and standard-issue movie chase scenes. We have the nagging feeling these are there to pump up the action quotient because the filmmakers are all-too-aware of the recent poor box-office track record of this kind of Mideast polemic.
It would have been more effective to concentrate on the nifty cat-and-mouse aspects of a story revolving around a CIA operative Roger Ferris (DiCaprio), who flits from oil-rich country to country trying to infiltrate terrorist cells and covertly stop their evil plans. In trying to smoke out one shadowy figure who has set off a series of bombs aimed at civilian targets, Ferris ingeniously comes up with the idea of setting up a fake terrorist operation that will take credit for the acts of the actual terrorist cell. Getting in his way is his U.S.-based boss Ed Hoffman (Crowe), who has a narrow-minded view of the way the world works and sets about doing things in ways that not-so-subtly eliminate every perceived enemy threat. Both must also deal with Jordanian intelligence head Hani (Mark Strong), who clearly has plans of his own.
Densely populated with all sorts of Arabic characters, Body of Lies is not nearly as complex or intriguing as it could have been, even with a well-observed script by Oscar-winning William Monahan (The Departed). And unfortunately, most scenes between Crowe and DiCaprio have them on opposite ends of the phone line. For the few sequences when they are onscreen together, the results are excellent, with both flourishing under Scott's distinct shooting style — multiple cameras and little rehearsal time with the goal of getting the most authentic performances. This might sound unnerving, but it seems to be energizing for these two stars.
Adopting an Arkansas accent and droll personality, Crowe clearly revels in playing this kind of cagey family man who just happens to be a real survivor of the American spy trade. He brings much to what is normally a strait-laced stereotype. DiCaprio is equally impressive, particularly in a role that requires a certain command of the Arabic language. He's believable as this rogue spy who may be in over his head this time. In his second film premiering this week (he stars in Guy Ritchie's RocknRolla), Strong has total command of the screen as the shrewd and cunning Hani. Adding a warm feminine touch to the proceedings, Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani plays a nurse with whom DiCaprio strikes up a relationship.
Scott has been down this road many times before with films such as Black Hawk Down. He's not breaking new cinematic ground this time, but the ride is still highly entertaining — providing you come in with lowered expectations.
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: William Monahan
Starring: Russell Crowe, Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Strong, Golshifteh Farahani, Alon Aboutboul, Oscar Isaac