Reviews & Previews - Body of Lies

Posted on Thursday, October 16, 2008 at 06:00 PM

Body of Lies

By: S. Tran

Starring: Leonardo Dicaprio, Russell Crowe, Mark Strong
Directed By: Ridley Scott
Running Time: 128 minutes
Rated: Rated R for strong violence including some torture, and for language throughout.

Lost In the Desert

Body of Lies is a movie that tries to be many things to many people. As with most efforts to do this it ends up pleasing none of those people. Despite a top notch cast and the best people money can buy behind the camera the movie comes across as a typical Hollywood fare trying to say something smart but failing because of its slavery to Hollywood convention.

Dicaprio stars as Roger Ferris, a CIA field operative who is tasked with tracking down the leader of a terrorist group in the middle east. Under orders from his boss in the U.S., Ed Hoffman (Crowe), Ferris pursues leads, trying to catch the bad guys while at the same time trying to stay ahead of his boss. He is aided by Hani (Strong), the head of the Jordanian secret service.

While Dicaprio does a fine job, I couldn't help but think I had seen him in this role just a little while ago in The Departed. While he pulled off playing the rookie cop I found it hard to believe him as hardened veteran field operative. He still looks too young for these kinds of roles and doesn't have the kind of seriousness that you expect such men to possess.

Crowe and Strong are much better as the two heads of their respective spy groups. Crowe plays the tough, heartless CIA leader who treats the life or death decisions he makes as though they were an afterthought, interrupting his day filled with PTA meetings and kid's soccer games. His cold blooded decision making enhances the slightly creepy evil vibe we get from him. Strong's Jordanian spy boss is Hoffman's opposite, a polished, self indulgent, arrogant character who verges on being a cartoon bad guy. To his credit though, Strong takes the act right to the edge without going over. He reminded me of a Bond villain, danger dressed up in Armani.

The real problem with the movie though is the meandering story line that tries so hard but ultimately fails. After spending a long time to set up the big plan to catch the terrorist leader the movie cheaps out on us and begins relying on Hollywood shortcuts  instead of smart story telling. In a film rooted in current events and realistic situations we're suddenly asked to suspend our disbelief.

Not willing to stop there Ridley Scott also decides to throw in a love interest for Dicaprio. This subplot is distracting at best and feels out of step with the rest of the movie. You're left scratching your head as to why it was included, except maybe as a cheap plot device. The movie's climax seemed to lose some steam and instead of a punch it felt more like a slow push towards the end.

Being a Ridley Scott film the action scenes are well done and the film does have its good moments and when we're not distracted by the weak plot devices there is actually a good movie in the middle of all the Hollywood cliches. It's just too bad that the movie had to use so many crutches instead of just running on its own.


3 stars out of 5.


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