There are two ways to watch Body of Lies.
Option No. 1: Recline. Speed-scoop fistfuls of popcorn into your munching maw. Slurp—as if a midair-refueling spy plane—semi-intravenously from a half-gallon soda. Ingest, too, the violent, star-spangled typical Hollywood espionage-thriller through wide, unblinking eyes. Emerge with the impression of having been entertained and with a memory of Body of Lies that, by the time you’ve finished in the bathroom, has already blended in with Syriana, Traitor and The Kingdom and is on its way to disappearing altogether, like the soda, passing right through you and down the memory drain.
Option No. 2: Lean forward. Furrow your brows. Try—as any politically-minded person is wont to do—to dig through the rubble, both literal and figurative, of this Middle East, War On Terrorism-set action movie for a deep, underlying political message. Get a headache.
As with The Dark Knight, Body of Lies has such obviously topical political content, it’s nearly impossible not to try and decipher it. Yet the attempts aren’t worth the trouble. Both Dark Knight and Body of Lies are films (and why is this so often the case these days?) that gesture at political “relevance” without actually saying anything. Seen in IMAX 3-D or not, they project an illusion of depth that isn’t really there.
Directed by the great (but increasingly, as is the case here, just OK) Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down) and based on the novel by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, which was then adapted by William Monahan (The Departed), Body of Lies stars Leonardo DiCaprio as a brash CIA operative named Roger Ferris who, as Sarah Palin would say, “pals around with terrorists.”
Ferris has got a lot on his plate. When he isn’t being half blown up, shot at, attacked by rabid dogs or tortured, he zips coolly around the Middle East and orchestrates a complicated scheme to ferret out an Osama-esque terrorist mastermind. Tracked by spy drone, Ferris is supervised by a senior agent who, played by a corpulent Russell Crowe, gives cheery orders by cell phone to kill while he serves snacks at his kid’s soccer game and who, thus, stands for the whole of Bush administration’s jingoist and blundering ideological overconfidence. Ferris must deal with this meddling while he simultaneously handles the CIA’s delicate relationship with the Chief of Jordanian Intelligence (a terrific Mark Strong, who calls Ferris “my dear”) and, moreover, a nascent romance with a beautiful Palestinian nurse (Golshifteh Farahani) who, with judging eyes everywhere, doesn’t reciprocate.
The best aspects of Body of Lies are found in its smartly-written cat-and-mouse machinations and reversals of predator/prey relations. The acting is good, if not stellar, and the action is well-shot and briskly paced. On the other hand, the romance seems superfluous and the dénouement makes use of a somewhat absurd deus ex machina.
Of course, there isn’t exactly a deluge of great films hitting the theaters just now. And you could just think of Body of Lies as a Bourne-like action movie and forget that it’s set in an ongoing conflict in which very real lives are currently being lost. You could. But should you?
Body of Lies
Directed by Ridley Scott
Written by William Monahan and based on the novel by David Ignatius
With Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Mark Strong and Golshifteh Farahani
Dreamcatcher, Regal Stadium 14
128 min., R