Reel Society

Reviews for the latest movies in theaters and on DVD.

Body of Lies

 

Review by Patrick Hodges

You really have to admire Ridley Scott’s moxie.

Even though the 70-year-old director has long established himself as one of Hollywood’s best and most durable directors; having helmed some of the most entertaining films of all time, in virtually every genre (including sci-fi classics like Alien and Blade Runner); and having been nominated no less than three times for the Best Director Oscar (Thelma & Louise, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down), to decide to take on theme that has produced exactly zero blockbusters thus far – the Middle East and terrorism – takes an incredible amount of chutzpah.

But it does help if you have the help of two of the biggest actors in Hollywood at the moment, those being Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe (who has worked with Scott on two previous films, Gladiator and A Good Year).  It’s ironic to think that the last time these two actors shared the screen was back in 1995, with the clichéd-but-entertaining oater The Quick and the Dead.  Of course, at the time, Crowe was a complete unknown and DiCaprio was a 21-year-old newcomer with only a couple of notable titles under his belt.  But oh, how that’s all changed now.

It’s not easy to describe the plot of Body of Lies without giving too much away.  DiCaprio plays CIA operative Roger Ferris, who is trying to flush out a terrorist leader named Al-Saleem in Jordan.  He gets his orders from Ed Hoffman (Crowe), a man for whom results are the only satisfactory outcome, delivered with a fair amount of arrogance and a cocky Southern drawl.  Ed plays the situation like a kid playing a video game, and has the resources to change the rules anytime he feels like it, dispensing his orders from his office, from his backyard, from his daughter’s soccer game, for Pete’s sake!

This, of course, infuriates Ferris to no end, because he is the one who is in the trenches, chasing the bad guys, dodging bullets, ducking explosions, and procuring the badly-needed intelligence that Hoffman needs.  Ferris is also trying to build a productive working relationship with the head of Jordanian Intelligence, Hani Salaam (Mark Strong), a relationship that is made even more tenuous by Hoffman’s double-dealings and hidden agendas.

There are so many ways that Scott could have screwed this up.  A lesser director might have chosen to ramp up the action, sacrificing intelligence for entertainment.  A lesser director could have taken this story of espionage and twisted it into a convoluted and indecipherable Gordian knot.  A lesser director would have gotten less convincing performances from his lead actors.

But Ridley Scott is not a lesser director.  Though the plot is indeed complex, with many layers and sub-layers, deceit and treachery, Scott never lets you lose sight of the overall picture.  He tells a solid, wonderfully entertaining story, without the need to drive home its message with sledgehammer subtlety (after all, very few things are black and white).  And most of all, he gets electric performances from Crowe and DiCaprio, whose symbiotic relationship with a thinly-veiled veneer of mutual contempt is a pleasure to watch.

I don’t know if Body of Lies will end up breaking through the barrier that every movie in this genre couldn’t; but for what it’s worth, I hope it does.  One thing’s for sure… if anybody can, Ridley Scott can.

4 ½ / 5 stars

 

 
 
 

Review by Matt Starr

Last year around this time I was eagerly anticipating the release of American Gangster. On paper it had all the makings of a great film and a potential Oscar contender. I ended up leaving the theatre greatly disappointed after that lackluster film. I came into Body of Lies this past week, knowing full well that Ridley Scott is an inconsistent director and that is why I did not leave disappointed but unfortunately not impressed either.

Scott’s latest project follows CIA agent Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio) around the Middle East as he tracks down a high-profile terrorist, while being instructed by his bureaucratic boss Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe). The problem for Ferris is that he is trying to work with the head of Jordanian intelligence (Mark Strong) and Hoffman’s instruction often conflicts with what Ferris is trying accomplish.

Since the plot of this film is so convoluted I will stop describing it and just get to the point of explaining why Scott has come up with another lackluster effort. The problem at the forefront of this film is the combination of Crowe’s performance and the lack of importance the character was given in the script. Crowe literally spends the entire film on the phone and is involved in no scenes of drama or intensity. Why put on all that weight for such a run-of-the-mill character and performance?

There are some action scenes but they aren’t effective because of the randomness. The story is constantly changing locations without anything ever really happening. I don’t mind hopping from place to place (worked well in the Bourne movies) but at least explain to me why this is happening.

There is also a side “love story” between Ferris and a nurse he meets that serves no other purpose than to provide some sort of climax to the story yet they somehow managed to make perhaps the most anticlimactic of endings. When a relationship isn’t clicking between the actors it sticks out like a sore thumb on the screen and that’s what occurs here and not that it is any fault of DiCaprio’s.  I am pretty confident I will see well versed drama between him and Kate Winslet in Revolutionary Road later this year.

DiCaprio’s performance is the only outstanding element of Body of Lies. This is an actor that never “phones in” a performance and gives 110% to any project he does. His intensity and grit on the screen are matched by few others in Hollywood today. Somewhere between Titanic and The Departed/Blood Diamond, a spark was lit in him, because he now performs in every film like he has a chip on his shoulder.

At this point I wonder why movies about the war on terror (Lions for Lambs, The Kingdom) don’t do well at the box office. Is it because people want to avoid the subject matter or is it because the movies simply aren’t good?

2 ½ / 5 stars

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