Didn't they shoot that fellow a few frames back?

Body of Lies

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


            “Body of Lies” is a tangled web of middle-eastern treachery. The major players seem to be Al Qaeda, CIA, Jordanian Intelligence and a gaggle of splinter groups. These groups are made up of primary agents and double and redoubled agents who carry out their assignments variously in Amman, Turkey, Manchester, Samara, Syria, Qatar, Washington, Iraq, Amsterdam, and Dubai. Do you begin to get the picture? A cast of multiple agents adorned with dark hair and dark beards makes tough work of tracking the characters. Why is this agent driving that car in Dubai? Why are we suddenly in Amsterdam? Didn’t they shoot that fellow a few frames back? If you’re not tired when you go in, you’ll be worn out when you come out.

            Russell Crowe is Ed, a paunchy career desk officer for CIA, a runner of covert agents. Leonardo di Caprio is Ferris, Ed’s covert field agent. We learn quickly that we are dealing with Al Quaeda, or variations thereof, when a Muslim leader warns, “We will avenge the American wars on the Muslim world. We will come at them from everywhere - at random.”

            This is an enemy that wears no uniforms and carries no flags. “They dress like us, look like us, and they live in the past.” It is an enemy that tries to leave traceable technology behind. They are fighting their war the old fashioned way – with bombs and guns. “Every infidel will be converted or dead. We have bled; now they will bleed….first Europe, then America.” After this premise is presented in the early scenes Ed (Crowe) sends Ferris (di Caprio) to Jordan to run the CIA operation.

            Leonardo di Caprio plays Ferris with a bit too much brio for us to believe in his redemption. He’s a smart aleck American with a talent for speaking Arabic, all the better for slipping into the Arab culture. He quickly meets the head of Jordan’s Intelligence Agency – Hani Salaam who is played menacingly but credibly by Mark Strong. When Hani speaks, we believe him.

            At midpoint, the movie is swallowed whole by the swirling chaos of exploding buildings, cars, and bodies, its plot just too intricate for a mere two hour movie. Once again, Hollywood decides to inflict graphic torture scenes on a captive audience. Does it help anyone to do all this on screen? I don’t think so.

            At one point Ferris asks Aisha, a nurse who is picking something out of his wound, “What’s that?” “Bone fragments,” she replies, “not yours.” Ferris falls for Aisha, of course, and their impossible courtship is handled with skill. The Iranian actress Golshifteh Fadahani makes Aisha a highlight in her few scenes.

            It’s good fun to watch the high tech surveillance systems and to ponder the judgment of covert agents riding in big, black SUVs and Mercedes diesels. Still, we are left with a competent cast that is ultimately lost in director Ridley Scott’s fast cuts to confusion.


Copyright (c) Illusion

Return to Ellis Home Page