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Middling East conflict
by Syd M
October 16, 2008 01:00 AM | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The newly recharged James Bond and the indefatigable Jason Bourne have put some sizzle back into the spy genre, but that news seems not to have reached the good people who made Body of Lies, a rote, lackluster spook movie set primarily in the Middle East. Never has the War on Terror looked so boring, even with the addition of explosions and car chases.

I had a running interior dialogue going throughout the movie. It went something like this: "Oh, something just blew up and all those completely anonymous people were killed. I probably should feel something about that. Nope; the movie's already moved on..." It's not that I don't so-called care about the so-called War on Terror; I just didn't care about the War on Terror depicted in Body of Lies - and neither, I suspect, did the filmmakers, including director Ridley Scott, who has made far better and more interesting movies about US foreign policy.

Body of Lies is one of Russell Crowe's chubby/zhlubby movies, in which the actor packs on the pounds, slaps on some grey hair and a Southern accent and galumphs around. His character, a CIA chief named Ed Hoffman, is funny; he's comfortably ensconced in stateside suburban splendor, attending to filial duties like any good soccer Pop, all while chatting into his Bluetooth to the understandably uptight Roger Ferris. This is an amusing idea: that one of those annoying people always chatting into their earpieces is actually engaged in life-and-death conversations on which hang the fate of nations.

Hoffman, we are to think, is a regular Joe who just happens to be saving the world by pulling the strings on Very Important Overseas Spy Operations. Some of those strings are attached to Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio), an Arabic-speaking CIA operative who is thisclose to finding a bin Laden-like figure named Al-Saleem (Alon Aboutboul). DiCaprio is increasingly hobbled as an actor by his baby face: He looks like a teenager playing spy games here, rather than a mature adult capable of managing (singlehandedly, apparently) American security operations in one of the world's hottest hotspots. Body of Lies follows Ferris as he hops around the globe, getting in and out of sticky situations (such as being chewed up by dogs, tortured et cetera) using diplomacy, cunning, lies and guns - all to make the world safe. Or something like that.

There is, I suppose, a message to all this routine spy exposition, and it's stated by Hoffman, who reminds his spy guy that no one is innocent, and that the war must be won by any means necessary. Hoffman keeps an eye on Ferris from the comfort of his Langley office, via satellites that can zoom in on the minutiae of Ferris' daily spy exploits. Ferris, being the guy getting his hands dirty (and mangled) in all this, isn't so sure that Hoffman is right - although, rather than dwell on that potentially interesting moral controversy, the story throws an arbitrary and convenient romance-with-multicultural-complications in Ferris' path. The woman tangentially caught up in the web of intrigue is Aisha (Golshifteh Farahani), an Iranian refugee and nurse.

The more interesting relationship is between Ferris and Hani (Mark Strong), the suave director of Jordanian security, who calls Ferris "my dear" and places a premium on truth and loyalty. Hani is one of those iron fist/velvet glove types who embodies the moral conflicts inherent in matters of intelligence and security, and the possibilities that such a character presents are intriguing. The Hani/Ferris/Hoffman love/hate triangle is the most interesting thing about Body of Lies, but it isn't given a chance to develop into much of anything in the film. Instead, Hani's role is, in the end, to be the unseen hand playing all the players who think they're controlling the game.

It all makes for a tidy but implausible conclusion. If there's one thing that isn't going to come out of the War on Terror, it's a tidy conclusion. Or, as I said to myself in that ever-so-pithy interior dialogue: "Phhbt. Not bloody likely."

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