MOVIE REVIEW- East is east: But western same-old dominates
Ridley Scott makes movies in which things go bang and boom. They're usually more intelligent than movies by Michael Bay or Jerry Bruckheimer in which things also go bang and boom, but if Scott has to choose between the intelligence and the bang/boom, you know what will be left.Until it cops out in the climax, Body of Lies has the bang, the boom, and the intelligence. It also has topicality– the CIA pursuing terrorists in the Middle East– and moves at such a good clip you hardly realize it's becoming increasingly formulaic as it goes along.
Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe) runs things from Langley, while Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio) is his eyes and ears in Iraq, Jordan, or wherever else the trail leads. Ed has other eyes and ears in the form of aerial reconnaissance, instantly visible and manipulatable on a large screen in his operations room.
Ferris is the "good cop" who speaks Arabic and is familiar with and respectful of the culture of the people. "Bad cop" Hoffman is concerned only with the mission and believes there's no room for sensitivity when facing an enemy that "want(s) every infidel converted or dead." As Ed Harris says in Appaloosa, "Feelings get you killed."
Ferris' approach goes over better with Hani Salaam (Mark Strong), head of Jordanian security, who agrees to cooperate as long as Ferris never lies to him. Hani is aware that fundamentalists in his country consider him "the enemy" because he collaborates with westerners.
It doesn't take long for Hoffman to mess up their alliance, but in the meantime Ferris is bitten by a dog and has to get rabies shots from a beautiful Iranian nurse, Aisha (Golshifteh Farahani). At first glance we know she's a potential love interest and damsel in distress, as William Monahan's (The Departed) screenplay takes its first big step toward Formulaville. Aisha and Ferris are soon involved in "matters that are non-medical."
The big fish evading all their hooks is Al-Saleem (Alon Aboutboul), a bin Ladenesque character except that he doesn't take credit for his group's bombings and such. Still, he has a big enough ego that Ferris hatches the idea of drawing him out by creating a supposed rival group, the "Brothers of Awareness." Garland (Simon McBurney), an amusing computer geek, plants the online evidence that gets Al-Saleem's attention, and things play out as they have in movies for at least a hundred years.
Scott knows how to make a movie movie, bringing Western clichés to the East. Body of Lies is briskly paced and has enough witty repartée between the leads to qualify as a buddy movie, even if most of their dialogue is over cell phones from different continents. The plot gets confusing at times, thanks to minor Arab characters being treated as interchangeable, but you can keep track of the people you're supposed to care about.
DiCaprio has another movie this year, Revolutionary Road, to serve as his Oscar bid, so here he simply gives a serviceable performance, masochistically enduring all the non-fatal pain that can be dished out in a mainstream movie that finds a number of excuses and euphemisms for torture. However badly he's injured, his Ferris never seems to take a day off. Crowe packed on more than 50 pounds to make Hoffman the "heavy" in more ways than one.
Body of Lies combines state-of-the-art technology and ripped-from-the-headlines subject matter with enough same-old same-old to send audiences home happy rather than challenged.