Ridley Scott’s superior post-911, post-Bourne counter-terrorism thriller loses its way in dusty red landscapes, satellite tracking and every cliché in the espionage how-to manual.
There’s plenty of helicopter shots, Bourne-like action sequences in hand-held wobble-cam, Middle-Eastern sunsets and suspicious Arabs in sunglasses on every street corner.
What better way to catch the un-catchable terrorist leader than invent a more successful rival? Cue Mid-East travelogue, complete with every location sub-titled even though the script tells you each one.
While Leo DiCaprio (The Departed, Inception) goes for more award nominations as conflicted field agent Roger Ferris, Russell Crowe, bulked up as repellent CIA foreign policy redneck Ed Hoffman, clearly has a whale of a time playing his truly loathsome handler.
Ridley Scott’s experience and brio make for an uneasy cocktail of glossy thriller elements in largley squalid urban settings, while writer Monahan’s script, adapting a successful novel, keeps the increasingly unruly Scott on the rails for a coherent narrative. Yet Body of Lies still adds up to less than the sum of its parts.
Unlike Matt Damon’s full-on action Bourne series, or his flip-side, American Tinker-Tailor Cold War tale The Good Shepherd, Body of Lies has little new to say about the murky world of espionage. Okay, it’s not Bond, but it’s also not The Quiller Memorandum, The Ipcress File or Syriana.
Like Inception, the shakedown of a master terrorist contains cons-within-cons, but by whom? As the different intelligence teams play against each other, the terrorists become the second string in the movie, almost incidental by the end.
DiCaprio’s half-realised romance with an Iraqi nurse becomes just another plot device to move the script along. We never really believe in it despite Golshifteh Farahani’s luminous presence.
There is far too much exposition delivered by mobile phone and some dubious computer hackery from Simon McBurney (The Borgias) littering the screen, as if someone had a check-list of mandatory modern spy tropes.
Better than the hack-fest of Robin Hood (and that’s just the script), Body of Lies sits mid-table in Scott’s portfolio; like Crowe’s character, lacking invention or any real passion, for which DiCaprio’s overwrought performance cannot compensate. RC
Body of Lies (2008)
Director: Ridley Scott
Writer: William Monahan
Running time: 2 hr. 8 min.
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Strong, Russell Crowe, Alon Aboutboul, Golshifteh Farahani, Michael Gaston, Oscar Isaac, Vince Colosimo, Simon McBurney.
Related: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy