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Bore on Terrorism

Body of Lies (2008)

François Duhamel/Warner Bros. Pictures

There’s an interesting movie hidden deep beneath the location-hopping techno-thriller surface of “Body of Lies.” It features a CIA agent working in Jordan and his romance with a local nurse. The ramifications of such a cross-cultural relationship – the suspicions directed toward them by her families and friends and his co-workers – and the ways in which the post-9/11 milieu affects the film could make for interesting, provocative viewing.

This is, however, a movie by Ridley Scott, who is hardly an accomplished chronicler of the dynamics of personal relationships, romantic or otherwise. As such, it aspires to a very different, much more clichéd sort of contemporary relevance. Although it does contain said romance as a subplot, Mr. Scott and screenwriter William Monahan are much more interested in telling a predictable story of espionage and terrorism in the modern Middle East. We’ve all seen, countless times before, the guns-blazing multi-cut action scenes, sky-high surveillance views, bureaucratic posturing and covert business meetings with the usual flashy accoutrements.

Leonardo DiCaprio stars as the agent, here named Roger Ferris. Sent by his boss Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe) to Jordan to head up the search for a terrorist mastermind, he juggles the demands posed by the head of the local intelligence agency (Mark Strong) with Hoffman’s. This means lots of angry confrontations, discussions about different pieces of intelligence and lots of ops aimed at nabbing possible informants. More old news to be gleaned from the film: Mr. Scott knows how to shoot a tense, polished action set piece; Mr. DiCaprio brings charisma and conviction to the part; no one should torture; and having Washington D.C. bureaucrats set American foreign policy is very often bad for business.

Although the romance feels completely out of place in the bland spy movie milieu, it does provide the only respite from the plot’s tired constraints. While most of the picture consists of a lot of hyped-up, overstuffed sequences that never serve much of an end, the scenes between Mr. DiCaprio and Golshifteh Farahani as the nurse are delivered at a reasonably convincing, heartfelt pitch. They provide the only moments of true insight into any of these characters, and the only times in which Mr. Scott seems actively interested in doing something with “Body of Lies” beyond adhering to this genre’s hegemonic narrative. The subplot is neither mainstream (a more typical movie would link Mr. DiCaprio with a Caucasian character) or something that has been done by one of the many recent global war on terror thrillers. Hopefully someone will pick up on this and make it the central focus of a story, rather than a simple side effect.


Opens on Oct. 10 in the United States and on Nov. 21 in Britain.

Directed by Ridley Scott; written by William Monahan, based on the novel by David Ignatius; director of photography, Alexander Witt; edited by Pietro Scalia; music by Marc Streitenfeld; production designer, Arthur Max; produced by Donald De Line and Mr. Scott; released by Warner Brothers Pictures. Running time: 2 hours 6 minutes. This film is rated R by M.P.A.A. and 15 by B.B.F.C.

WITH: Leonardo DiCaprio (Roger Ferris), Russell Crowe (Ed Hoffman), Mark Strong (Hani) and Golshifteh Farahani (Aisha).


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