October 13, 2008

Movie Review: Body of Lies

bodyoflies1_smallOver the past couple of years the big screen has been assaulted by a number of films that use the situation in Middle East as a backdrop for its drama. Many different angles have been applied, such as Hollywood thriller with The Kingdom, political lecture with Lions for Lambs, and personal drama such as In the Valley of Elah, among others. Not all of them were successful in their goal, and none were all that successful at the box office, with The Kingdom obtaining the highest gross. In short, it seems that people do not want to see the current war being used as a backdrop for unreal situations. I do not disagree, although by the same token, I am intrigued by the stories being presented. Body of Lies is the latest in the series of films that has much of its action take place in the Middle East (not to mention an entire host of other locations). The end result is a picture that brings together actual world events and a James Bond styled action/thriller while maintaining a deadly serious tone.

Body of Lies is densely plotted, don't step out of the theater as you are bound to miss something important to the plot. Such as it is, I dare not even attempt to describe the plot, as I am sure I would end up doing one of two things: one, I would forget some important nugget that will make all that I wrote mean nothing, or two, I would rob you of the ability to discover the plot for yourself. Actually, I would probably wind up doing both, and nobody wants that. This film moves at a brisk pace and has a lot to offer while never looking down on the viewer. While the subject matter can be considered a little touchy, the film is firm in it what it wants to depict and seems earnest in attempting to be accurate in its portrayal. Of course, this is just my impression, reality could prove very different.

houseofliespubcSo, let us set the stage. Roger Ferris (Leonardo Dicaprio) is a CIA agent in the field, speaks fluent Arabic and can move freely between the numerous hot zones in pursuit of terrorist agents. Back in the United States is Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe), Roger's handler and a man with his own agenda, not afraid to go through other channels to ensure he gets what he wants. Their goal is to locate terrorist leader Al Saleem, a rarely seen man who is extremely dangerous (and taking the place of Osama Bin Laden). It is a difficult task, as the terrorist is constantly vigilant for anyone who may be getting too close.

In order to get closer to their objectives, they turn to Hani Salaam (Mark Strong), leader of Jordanian Intelligence. This is where things get dicey, as Ferris finds himself caught between Hoffman, who likes to go through alternate channels to get his way, and Hani who has a single directive, he does not want to be lied to.

houseofliespubjThere are a lot of different players involved, with many of them employing their own methods, all of them leaving Ferris to pick up the pieces. Of course, the plan that Ferris uses to get to Saleem is one that sort of seems out of character, until you realize that sometimes extreme need necessitates extreme measures. The problem is when the situation gets out of hand, you lose control and bad things happen. Believe me when I tell you that bad things do, in fact, happen here.

One of the things that helps set this apart is that through the dense plot focus is never lost on the characters. These characters, specifically Ferris, may have some superhuman moments, but they are above all else, real people. Ferris goes about his work in methodical fashion, but he still feels real, even finding time for a romance with an Iranian woman named Aisha (Golshifteh Farahani), living in Amman. Now, she may ultimately be a plot point, but the moments they share feel genuine. By the same token, watching Hoffman deal with his family while simultaneously working with Ferris over the phone brings his character into sharper focus.

houseofliespubgCredit for the writing goes to William Monahan (whose other produced work includes Kingdom of Heaven and The Departed). He has written a complex script that weaves in real world tensions giving us a film that could be a James Bond flick if those flicks were more grounded in the real world. Combine the words with the skilled direction from Ridley Scott and you have a recipe that points towards success. Scott makes the most of actual locations from around the world, delivering some authentic globetrotting.

The performances are also first rate. Dicaprio turns in yet another fine performance, he brings weight and depth to Ferris, not to mention a very charismatic screen presence. Crowe plays counterpoint to Dicaprio, bringing us a character who is fighting the good fight, although his methods are questionable, but he is not dumb, he knows what he is doing. Mark Strong is not to be forgotten as Hani Salaam, his suave performance is just fantastic, you will not be able to take your eyes off of him.

Bottomline. Stronger than I was expecting. I was drawn in hook, line, and sinker. Body of Lies moves at a brisk pace and the two plus hour run time flies by. This is the result of a strong script, direction, and performances and deserves to be seen on the big screen.

Highly Recommended.

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