Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: William Monahan
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Mark Strong, Golshifteh Farahani, Oscar Isaac
In a war where intelligence essentially becomes a currency and human lives become dispensable, I would not blame anyone involved to have trust issues. It’s a matter of self-preservation and Body of Lies seeks to bring light to how much people can lie to each other in order to complete a mission geared towards saving lives, and the great disparity between commands from afar and the execution on-site.
Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio) works as a CIA operative in Iraq in search of a specific terrorist. He gets his commands from Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe) back in the United States. As their search for this terrorist gets more intense the divide between them grows as Ferris deals with the human casualty and Hoffman works with side operations without the knowledge of Ferris.
The amount of lies spewed in this film lives up to its title because as an audience member we find ourselves rooting for Ferris but everyone who seems to be an ally cannot be trusted. Even with Ferris trying to do things his way, he must fight off the orders from his superiors and the other interested parties involved. In that way, the film takes a look at how people on the ground experience events and those calling the shots from a safe distance. Ferris and Hoffman represent those two experiences. Ferris risks his life in spying on terrorist safe houses and interacting with duplicitous individuals. On the other side, you have Hoffman, who leads the operation and gives Ferris the order on what to do given the situation. When an explosion hits, Ferris feels the heat while Hoffman can sip his tea. When Ferris watches one of his colleagues get blown up on a mission, he feels that pain while Hoffman simply uses another asset in the grand war.
These two men represent a worker-leadership divide with what they actually contribute to the mission and how they contribute to the violence happening in the Middle East. By being this operative for the CIA, Ferris essentially becomes a tool of destruction where men like Hoffman can use others as a pawn in this large battle against terrorism. Hoffman faces his own issues with different terrorist attacks happening around the world by the organization he’s been tasked with eradicating. It makes Hoffman more aggressive with his moves, thus losing sight of the human issue Ferris faces on the job. On all sides, Ferris gets deceived either by Hoffman or the Jordanian intelligence agency he must work alongside. It leaves Ferris with not many people to trust.
The film succeeds in showing the shady nature of this type of operation and who typically gets left in the dark when the decisions are made. It adds entertainment and mystery value to the film, but it did have issues with parts of the execution, as it felt incredibly long at parts. Just when you think a point was made, the film would linger on an idea longer than it had to. Something director Ridley Scott could not fully grasp. As much of a visionary filmmaker he may be, it’s been made evident that he excels only as far as the script allows him to do. He rarely elevates a script into greatness, but when he gets something good, he can really knock it out of the park like in Alien and Blade Runner. The story he takes on has layers of deception, but it lacks real fortitude in the way it’s brought forward. It still works fine in the context of the story but with a director of this caliber, I expected him to really drive the point home in ways he did not feel like doing evidently. While still being a fine film, when it’s coming from the hands of Ridley Scott, it falls in the average pile as compared to his masterpieces.
Body of Lies can fall into plenty of other movies about the war on terror and comes out looking better than most of them. It shows the importance of honesty to gain trust, but how deception can get the job done. The CIA builds its entire ideology on that deception, but you would think it would not happen to one of their own agents. The action looks competently put together and yet another good shouty performance by Leonardo DiCaprio. It’s messaging may be better than its execution, but it still works in highlighting the differences between the different operatives in this type of mission.