Monday, October 13, 2008

I wished this Lie had more Body to it

Body of Lies, based on Washington Post columnist David Ignatius’ 2007 novel about a CIA operative, Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio), who uncovers a lead on a major terrorist leader suspected to be operating out of Jordan. When Ferris devises a plan to infiltrate his network, he must first win the backing of cunning CIA veteran Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe) and the collegial, but perhaps suspect, head of Jordanian intelligence. Although ostensibly his allies, Ferris questions how far he can really trust these men without putting his entire operation – and his life – on the line.


Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Roger Ferris, an American intelligence officer based on the ground, in the eye of the storm, as it were, but controlled by his CIA boss Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe) thousands of kilometres away in Washington, DC. The jet-propelled narrative, which is filled with suspense and action in the best Scott tradition (the director has always been a consummate storyteller), also gives some insight into the impenetrable difficulties of the situation. Ferris speaks Arabic, he knows the region intimately, he's as much at home as it's possible to be in Iraq or Jordan, where he's on friendly terms with the urbane head of the Jordanian General Intelligence Department, Hani Salaam (Mark Strong). Hoffman, on the other hand, podgy and middle-aged and frequently seen coping with the demands of his small children while giving life or death orders over a secure phone line, sees the bigger picture, or at least that's what he claims. Giant television screens afford him the images recorded by spy planes; the chatter of tapped phone lines provides further information. Perhaps because he's usually so far from the action, he cares next to nothing for the little people involved in the US's war on terror; if the innocent are killed, it's just collateral damage and nothing to lose any sleep over. Ferris is more concerned because, unlike his boss, he is in contact with the pawns in the deadly games being played in the most dangerous circumstances. When an innocent Jordanian architect is chosen at random to be set up as the leader of a terrorist cell, Ferris goes along with the scheme in the hope it will flush out the terrorist leader the CIA is really after, but he does everything he can to protect the innocent, sometimes at the risk of jeopardising one of Hoffman's grand designs. Body of Lies may not tell us anything we didn't already know about the way the US does business in the Middle East, but it's not really compelling. Partly this is because of the performances: DiCaprio and Crowe are unbelievable, while Strong is chillingly impressive as the impeccably smart Jordanian security chief. As an Iranian-born nurse whose relationship with Ferris results in not unexpected complications, Golshifteh Farahani is luminous. (There's a fine scene in which her married sister, who has invited Ferris to lunch, peppers him with barely hostile questions about what he's doing in Jordan.) This one was OK, but not good enough to make me recommend it. Wait until it reaches DVD. A 3 on my "Go See" scale.

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