Blu-ray/DVD Review: BODY OF LIES (2008)
I caught up with BODY OF LIES (2008) on Blu-Ray the other day, Ridley Scott’s thriller from 2008 about terrorism in the Middle East. It stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe, and while both actors do a fine job, DiCaprio in particular, it’s Mark Strong who steals the show as the head of Jordanian intelligence.
Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a young CIA operative working in the Middle East trying to locate the mastermind behind a series of terrorist bombings. His superior officer, Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe) works behind the scenes back in the States and the two are in constant contact via cell phone.
Hoffman hooks Ferris up with the head of Jordanian security, Hani (Mark Strong) in their efforts to track down the terrorist. Hani tells Ferris he’s happy to work with him, but under one condition: “don’t ever lie to me.” You know right off the bat that this is going to be a problem.
At Hoffman’s urging, Ferris does lie to Hani, and once Hani finds out, he tells Ferris he no longer will work with him, nor will he be responsible for his safety. As if he doesn’t have enough on his plate, Ferris finds time to befriend a young nurse Aisha (Golshifteh Farahani), and the two become romantically involved, giving Ferris’ enemies a card they can play against him.
Ferris and Hoffman devise a new plan to catch the elusive terrorist, but things don’t go as expected, and Ferris suddenly finds himself in a predicament in which there seems to be no escape.
BODY OF LIES is a decent thriller, but don’t expect anything as intense as the Kathryn Bigelow films THE HURT LOCKER (2008) or ZERO DARK THIRTY (2012). It’s based on the novel by David Ignatius, and it plays more like a fictional tale than a true to life espionage account. This isn’t necessarily the fault of the screenplay by William Monahan, which includes realistic and captivating dialogue, and likable characters, but of the story itself, a tale of elaborate plots that seem more at home in a movie than in real life. Monahan also wrote the screenplay for THE DEPARTED (2006), a film that was actually darker than this movie.
Although Ridley Scott does a fine job at the helm, for a thriller, the film isn’t all that suspenseful. The most suspense the film generates comes at the end, when DiCaprio’s Ferris finds himself in the hands of the enemy, and when they start the video cameras rolling, you know exactly what they have in mind for the young CIA agent. It’s nail biting time, and then some. But before this, the film, while generally engrossing and entertaining, is not exactly all that intense.
That being said, you can’t blame Leonardo DiCaprio, because he brings his usual intensity to the role of CIA agent Roger Ferris, and it’s a very similar performance though not as good as his work in THE DEPARTED (2006) and BLOOD DIAMOND (2006), two of my favorite DiCaprio roles.
DiCaprio also shows off his softer side here, as his scenes with nurse Aisha are warm and enjoyable. He and Golshifteh Farahani share a nice chemistry together.
And then there’s Russell Crowe.
It’s funny about Russell Crowe’s performance here. He portrays Ed Hoffman as a veteran operative whose best days are behind him. He works behind the scenes, from the safety of his own home most of the time, communicating to his agent Ferris by constantly talking into his headset while performing mundane duties, like taking his children to soccer practice and grocery shopping.
He’s supposed to be a man who has let himself go, and the funny thing is, in recent films, that’s how Crowe has appeared. No longer the beast of a man who was Maximus in GLADIATOR (2000), Crowe has been a rather overweight assassin in THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS (2012) and a rather ineffective Javert in LES MISERABLES (2012). Life imitating art?
But the two best performances in BODY OF LIES both come from supporting players. First, in my favorite performance of the movie, it’s Mark Strong as Hani, the head of Jordanian intelligence. Strong is one of those actors who looks different in nearly every movie he’s in, and who manages to deliver compelling performances in these films, and his work here in BODY OF LIES is no exception.
Strong originates from Britain, but in BODY OF LIES he seems at ease and natural portraying a Jordanian. If you didn’t know his background, you’d never guess that he wasn’t from Jordan. Likewise, in his performance as the villainous Frank D’Amico in KICK-ASS (2010), probably my favorite Strong performance, you’d never know he wasn’t from New York City. Strong has appeared in SHERLOCK HOLMES (2009), GREEN LANTERN (2011), JOHN CARTER (2012) and most recently in ZERO DARK THIRTY (2012).
As Hani, Strong is suave, confident, and ruthless. It’s a great performance.
The other memorable performance in BODY OF LIES belongs to Golshifteh Farahani as Aisha, Ferris’ love interest. Farahani comes off as genuine and sincere, and she’s a breath of fresh air compared to the deceit which permeates the rest of the characters in this story. She also projects a heartfelt sensuality not often found in female movie characters. I absolutely bought the notion that she had feelings for Ferris and that she didn’t have ulterior motives or felt for him because she was turned on by a sense of adventure or daring. She just genuinely seemed attracted to the guy. Refreshing.
BODY OF LIES didn’t blow me away, either with its story or its acting performances, didn’t have me on the edge of my seat, with the exception of the sequence where Ferris is captured by the terrorists, and this comes late in the game, but for its 128 minute running time, it held my interest and succeeded in making its point that our actions the past decade in the Middle East, for right or wrong, are a body of lies.