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Body of Lies: Political Punch Without a Point

Posted by goldwriting on October 12, 2008

You mean to tell me the hidden Harry Potter novel is NOT in this folder?

There are certain things a country does when it goes to war, the economy usually booms into action, the populace rally behind the sitting President and Hollywood starts production on films portraying America as the patriotic force of good against whatever evil it is we are currently fighting with. And so it went during the early years of the Iraq War, but as time dragged on everything started to slip away. The economy slid into one of the worst depressions on record, the general populace turned on the sitting President with such vitriol and distaste it is a wonder he’s still in office, and lastly Hollywood began to show another side of the conflict, one where we were not cast in the best of lights. The movie going public usually eats this all up with a popcorn flavored spoon, but eventually there is a line crossed where the audience just doesn’t care anymore. We’ve moved on, the war has become old news and we don’t want to be reminded anymore about how badly we screwed the pooch. But films take a long time to go from start to finish, so this weekend we were graced with one more wartime vision, Body of Lies, this one from greatly acclaimed director Ridley Scott and powerhouse actors Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio.

Russell plays Ed Hoffman, an arrogant, egotistical CIA operative constantly wired to the cell phone in his pocket and somehow managing to pillage information from halfway around the world while still attending his daughter’s soccer game. Leo takes the role of Roger Ferris, the rough edged man on the ground who provides Ed with his intel and carries out whatever orders flow through those encrypted phone lines. As with anyone who stays in those situations for too long, Roger is getting strung out and he starts to wonder if these secret missions and assassinations are really the correct course of action. Ed does what he can to talk sense into him, make him see the bigger picture, but Roger begins to think the two of them are picturing different things. Old loyalties are tested and broken, while new ones are forged in the heat of a silent war. Once again, it’s shown that every man must choose his own destiny and find out what he truly believes.

The main thing getting in the way of this film’s success is the timing. No matter how much action you put in, no matter how much drama you layer over it, the fact remains this is yet another Iraq War movie and the audience just isn’t there anymore. We have grown weary of seeing our enemies, the ones fighting against us and the ones claiming to be fighting for us. There will always be a place for war movies in the annals of cinema, but the market right now has become glutted with them, especially with the extra helping on documentaries on the subject. Deep down we all go to the movie theater to be momentarily distracted from what we see on the news every night and right now the voice of the people is speaking loud and clear on that point.

Yet, even if this movie had been released earlier by three or four years, I’m not sure it would have done much better. Ridley does his best here to set up tension and a good sense of paced action, but with only an hour gone from the opening shot I was already beginning to wonder how long we had left. The film seems to drag itself towards an end, which when it finally arrives has little to no impact. The story lacks a sense of closure, which possible stems from the reality of the situation in Iraq. There is certainly a ride to be had by watching this, but I’m not sure you finish the ride feeling any different than when you got on.

The excitement surrounding Russell and Leo getting to work together was palpable when the casting was first announced, but they both deliver only during certain scenes. Russell relaxes into the skin of Ed Hoffman, a man who can’t be bothered to think about the humanity of his actions because he has the safety of the world on his mind. Yet barely underneath that is his own desire to be recognized as the one who saved it. In particular moments of the film, Russell really flowed with the brimming confidence of Ed, but in other scenes he came off rather uncaring and unmotivated. Leo got a touch luckier in his role because all the drama and conflict really resides in him. He showed some good chops while playing the political game between Ed and the local contacts, but it never came up to the power of Leo’s earlier stuff, like The Basketball Diaries, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape or most recently The Departed, which he will forever be measured against. The one person who actually stepped out of the film and truly gave a measure of weight when on screen was Mark Strong, who played Hani the head of the Jordanian Secret Service. His cool demeanor was a translucent mask over an intimidating and unremorseful nature. Hani saw the world very plainly, those who were with him and those who were against him, and you knew which side you wanted to be on.

Recommendation: I can’t honestly say there is much here we haven’t already seen in the last couple of years with films like The Kingdom and Lions for Lambs. If you really want power and performance inside a war story, Ridley is still your man, just go rent Black Hawk Down instead.

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Here are links for two of the posters for the movies I mentioned in this review:

Buy at Art.com
Buy at Art.com
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