I expected to not enjoy "Body of Lies," yet another in the growing line of Mideast-centered political action-thrillers, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Roger Ferris. Ferris is a free-spirited CIA operative with something a CIA operative should never have...a conscience.
Ferris finds himself heading up the Amman, Jordan operations for an administration desperate to find Al Saleem, a shadowy figure and head of a terrorist organization similar to Al Qaeda. DiCaprio's Ferris is a complex man, seemingly driven by equal parts patriotism, justice and duty.
"Body of Lies" is, for the most part, your paint-by-numbers action-thriller plopping itself intimately inside contemporary socio-political headlines. The scenes feel familiar both because of William Monahan's fairly predictable script and because the scenarios themselves feel like they've been ripped right out of today's news.
Ferris finds himself having to function in an Amman that has grown weary of the bull-headed American ways, mostly owing to Ferris's supervisor, Hoffman (Russell Crowe), an ego-driven man who has technology that allows him to watch virtually every move by Ferris but who is surprisingly lacking in vision and insight. Crowe, who packed on 50 pounds for the role, gives an understated performance as the man who largely commands Ferris from the safety of his own home. The sheer lunacy of the multiple conversations that take place throughout the film in which Ferris is struggling to survive while Hoffman is getting his children off to school is disturbing in its normalcy.
"Body of Lies" rises above the mediocrity of its storyline thanks largely to its ensemble cast. While DiCaprio lost favor with me for awhile in his young adult years, he seems to be finally returning to the promise of his early days. While Ferris lacks of the charisma of a Jason Bourne, DiCaprio's Ferris is a gritty, conflicted man who is becoming increasingly troubled by the lack of humanity that surrounds him. While his obligatory romance with an attractive Iranian nurse, Aisha (Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani), feels a bit too tacked on to make sense, DiCaprio and Farahani have a subtle chemistry that manages to make the relationship intriguing.
As the Jordanian security chief who grows to recognize Ferris's moral core, Mark Strong ("Syriana") nearly steals the show from both DiCaprio and Crowe. As Hani Salaam, Strong portrays a man who recognizes both the strengths and weaknesses of humanity while never allowing his humanity to equal vulnerability.
Ridley Scott keeps the action moving rather swiftly, something that may allow "Body of Lies" to avoid the poor box-office fate of the other Mideast-centered films. Likewise, while "Body of Lies" is an intelligent film, Monahan's script wisely avoids preaching and teaching. Instead, the action evolves in such a way that the viewer can easily reach their own conclusions. It's an interesting dynamic, especially given the pre-screening knowledge that director Scott tends lean towards the right of this issue while DiCaprio is firmly planted on the left.
While the Mideast scenes were largely shot in Morocco, Scott gives "Body of Lies" a strong sense of authenticity and realism that heightens one's anxiety throughout the action. While some recent films, most notably "The Kingdom," never quite attained that feeling of actually being there, "Body of Lies" looks and feels like the real thing.
There's no denying that "Body of Lies" is a bit disappointing given the Oscar-bait casting of Crowe and DiCaprio. While it may find itself with a tech nomination here or there, "Body of Lies" isn't so much Oscar bait as it is an entertaining and thought-provoking action flick. It may be the first action thriller set in today's political climate to finally captivate the box-office.
Despite its rather predictable storyline, "Body of Lies" succeeds on the strength of Dicaprio's intensity, Crowe's quiet nuances and Strong's intelligently disciplined performance.
The Independent Critic