Sunday, October 12, 2008

"Body of Lies"

Shit blows up real good in Ridley Scott’s “Body of Lies,” a purported attempt to make a slick, big-budget entertainment about our country’s ongoing war on terror and the futility/effectiveness of it. Somewhat surprisingly, though, the movie doesn’t seem to have much to say other than the mild imposition of “war is no good for anyone,” and it’s not anywhere near entertaining or compelling enough to compensate for the lack of thematic heft. Inexplicably written by William Monahan (who won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for “The Departed”), the rote thriller focuses on Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio), a CIA operative, as he globetrots throughout the Middle East, narrowly escapes explosions and gets shot at, all while getting orders barked to him via cell phone by his fat, Southern-accented boss (Russell Crowe). Oh yeah, and he, along with everyone he works with, is trying to locate and capture Al-Saleem (Alon Aboutboul), an Osama bin Laden stand-in. The plot is plenty complex, verging on convoluted, throughout, but the movie doesn’t seem to be as morally conflicted and substantive as it wants you to think it is. We just keep waiting for it to get to its point, but instead get an overbearing score and two or three explosions too many.

DiCaprio is reliably strong, despite the fact that he seems to still be stuck in “Departed” mode, and his facial hair looks noticeably awkward (it’s vaguely Brillo pad-ish). As for Crowe, I have no idea why he chose to be in this movie. His character’s connection to the film’s story is tenuous as best, he doesn’t have much to do, and for all the public attention paid to his 50-pound weight gain for the part, his character’s girth serves no purpose and contributes nothing. I’m half-convinced Crowe just got fat and said it was for the role. In terms of the performance, he’s trying ever so hard to be a scene-stealer, but I found his peering over his glasses and inconsistent accent increasingly grating. The best performance in the movie turns out to be Brit Mark Strong (also currently in “RocknRolla”) as Hani, head of the Jordanian secret police. In the realm of geopolitical romps, “The Kingdom” is certainly a more mainstream, entertaining film than this, but despite “Body’s” best efforts, it’s also a more thoughtful, ambiguous one. Down to the truly lame, trite final reel, this all plays like a dumber, lifeless version of “Syriana.” The movie’s not particularly boring, but it’s also never exciting or the least bit provocative. The last thing a film tackling our country’s complex relationship with the Middle East should be is “forgettable,” but “Body of Lies” never does anything to distinguish itself from a dozen other geopolitical thrillers.


Anonymous Ben Nuckols said...

A professional, mainstream Hollywood thriller that I liked and you didn't: WHA?

I respect you for not liking it, though. Methinks you're getting a bit prickly, always a good development for a critic.

7:58 PM  
Blogger Actionman said...

I thought this film, while not perfect, was terrific, topical entertainment.

11:21 AM  
Anonymous Lucy said...

This movie is definitely one the best of 2008

3:03 PM  

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