'Body of Lies' is a Cynical Cinematic Kamikaze

City Pulse | October 6, 2008
Body of Lies is a prime example how cell phones in action movies work to strip away suspense and interest no matter how many gun battles and explosions there are. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Roger Ferris, a CIA super agent globetrotting to any Middle East location that his snide D.C. boss Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe) sends him to, by way of incessant cell phone discourse. DiCaprio wears brown contact lenses to cover his Western blue eyes, and help convince us that foreign subjects might believe that he is of Middle Eastern descent. Unlike most real life CIA ops, this one speaks fluent Arabic. Ferris, a mercenary for democracy, goes on bloody missions to draw out a terrorist mastermind that never claims responsibility for the civilian bombing strikes he incites in Western countries. An ill-fitting love story gets mashed into the movie when Ferris falls for a hospital nurse (well played by Golshifteh Farahani) whose Muslim traditions put a serious damper on any fun they might have together. Based on David Ignatius's novel, Body of Lies trudges through on the strength of Leonardo DiCaprio's habitually hardy performance, but you can't help being let down by the rest of the ridiculously bombastic movie.

The trend of Hollywood films tackling the nature of Bush's trademarked "War on Terror" reveals things about how mainstream screenwriters perceive terrorist powerbrokers in a shell game without end. Last year's The Kingdom took a smarter-than-them approach to mapping out a colorful cartoon version of what it would take to track down the source of a terrorist attack and suppress the wily enemy. This time around the investigation and surveillance process following a London bombing attack gets considerable satellite assistance that helps speed transitions between locations like Amsterdam, Dubai, Amman, Washington, and Incirlik, Turkey. It plays like an existential gumball rally of RPG-firing misfits and the mannered people that finance them.

If there's a political message to the carefully orchestrated series of explosions that occur with too much regularity, it's that United States intel ops are being fed to the wolves by some fairly clueless overweight guys at Langley (director Ridley Scott made Russell Crowe gain 50 pounds for the role). A guiding theme is that the players in the bull's-eye of global espionage are mere puppets propping up an information stream of bullshit built to form a smokescreen to safeguard those profiting from the anarchy.

There is no integrity and no accountability to be had. From this perspective, Body of Lies is a cynical cinematic Kamikaze sortie where the goal is for the audience to disapprove of every smug American character and every super tricky Middle Easterner. Just sit back and enjoy the beatings and explosions for their own sake. What's most disappointing is that a veteran journalist from The Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post wrote the film. As with The Kingdom, there's a constant message being smuggled through Hollywood; we have seen the face of the enemy, and we are it.

Rated R for strong violence including some torture, and for language throughout. 128 mins. (Warner Bros. Pictures) (Two Stars = C).
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