October 09, 2008

Body of Lies

I'm phoning this one in, Leo

Grade: B –

Director: Ridley Scott

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Mark Strong, and Golshifteh Farahani

MPAA Rating: R

Running Time: 2 hours, 8 minutes

As director Ridley Scott’s filmmaking technique becomes increasingly indistinguishable from the hyperkinetic stylings of brother Tony, his ability to intertwine subtext with visual razzmatazz becomes more thorny.

Body of Lies, Scott’s latest action procedural drawn from a David Ignatius spy novel, is a game of geopolitical hopscotch that plays more like Syriana on speed. A CIA operative, Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio), and his Machiavellian Langley handler, Ed Hoffman, (a portly Russell Crowe), work to capture a notorious international terrorist responsible for suicide bombings throughout Jordan and Europe.

William Monahan’s screenplay effectively conveys the American intelligence community’s failure to appreciate that Islamic terrorism is also a crisis for the Arab world, and a mindset that targets/demonizes a region instead an ideology is doomed to bring about failure and conflagration. But, the vehicle for this lesson is yet another portrait of brown people behaving badly, and even they are smarter and more sophisticated than the ugly Americans.

There is a fascinating subplot surrounding Ferris’ effort to smoke out his terrorist quarry via disinformation when he chooses an innocent Jordanian architect and – using Internet chatter, dummy bank accounts, and a phony bombing – turns him into a jihadist straw man. Sadly, Scott strains to weave this and the other diffuse plot strands into an organized tapestry, leaving several crackerjack action sequences and sturdy performances by DiCaprio (despite a nasally North Carolina accent), Mark Strong (as the debonair head of Jordanian intelligence), and Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani (as Palestinian object of Ferris’ romantic overtures in another underdeveloped storyline) to shoulder the film.

Meanwhile, this is Crowe’s fourth collaboration with Scott and by far the most uninspired; Hoffman spends most of his time staring at television monitors, yammering over a cell phone, or driving his kids to soccer games in the midst of trying to lethally upset the Middle Eastern pomegranate cart. He is as doltish and he is diabolical, the perfect, manipulative foil for a film as facile as its title.

Neil Morris

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