Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio, while not my favorite actors, can usually be relied on to deliver fine performances in smart, gripping films. Even if I end up not liking a particular movie that these guys are in, I usually don’t feel as though I’ve wasted my time. That’s why I decided to see the thriller Body of Lies, despite the lukewarm ratings and low box office returns the film has received in its first three weeks in wide release. Unfortunately, I should have just passed on this one — or at least waited for it to arrive on DVD.
Plot summary (with possible spoilers): DiCaprio stars as Roger Ferris, a CIA operative who’s currently in Jordan trying to make contacts that will help him track down a high-ranking terrorist named Al-Saleem (played by Alon Abutbul). Overseeing Ferris and the operation is CIA handler Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe), who watches all the action from Langley via Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and phones in advice to Ferris whenever possible.
One of the most important contacts Ferris has established a relationship with is Hani Salaam (Mark Strong), a very powerful and influential man who is the head of the Jordanian General Intelligence Department. Hani feels confident that he can deliver Al-Saleem, especially if Ferris shares all information with him and doesn’t lie about what the CIA is doing. Ferris agrees to these terms, and the men strike up a partnership.
The two men begin watching a known terrorist cell with suspected ties to Al-Saleem. The cell has been successful because they’ve gone low tech, dispensing with emails and computers in favor of giving orders face to face. This makes them very hard to track, so it’s critical to deal with them very carefully in order not to spook them and send them underground. But Hoffman doesn’t play by these rules, and sure enough, the terrorists soon learn that they’re being watched and scatter quickly thereafter.
Hani blames Ferris for the fiasco, so Ferris returns to the U.S. to discuss matters with Hoffman. They decide on a risky plan to flush Al-Saleem out of hiding — a plan that doesn’t include Hani. Things become complicated, however, when Aisha (Golshifteh Farahani), a nurse that Ferris has taken a liking to, is kidnapped and held hostage by unknown gunmen who want to exchange her for Ferris.
The rest of the film then shows how Ferris carries out the exchange, reveals who kidnapped Aisha, and provides a bit of a twist at the end as we see who was really pulling the strings all along.
My Reaction: For some reason, Body of Lies failed to draw me into the characters or the plot at all. The storyline was fairly basic and easy to follow, but since there was very little character development, I didn’t care who did what to whom, nor did I give a damn who “won” in the end. None of them were particularly likable, none of them seemed to be out for the “greater good”, and none of them earned my respect or sympathies. It’s hard to enjoy a film when you don’t care about the characters or the world they inhabit.
Another thing Body of Lies failed to do was give a unique perspective about the CIA’s role in the Middle East. Hey, look: it’s yet another Hollywood film that denounces everything the American government does in that region! What a surprise… not.
I actually don’t have a whole heck of a lot to say about Body of Lies. It was boring, and not something that I would recommend wasting money on at the theater. I give it 2 stars out of 5.