Body of Lies is a taut, tense, and well-crafted thriller that is slightly more entertaining than confounding. Although the film could have easily been called “Travel Guide to the Middle East: Places You Should Probably Avoid,” it is actually about the logistical warfare being engaged on the ground by spies and intelligence agencies that might be even more devious and dangerous than the actual one in Iraq. Its knowledge of this unknown world is both refreshing and fascinating but the film’s reluctance to express a coherent and forceful message about why this violence continues to blossom and who is to blame for its escalation is disappointing.
Leonardo DiCaprio plays Roger Ferris, a CIA agent who is sent to various countries in the Middle East in an attempt to capture the infamous terrorist Al Saleem. Ferris establishes numerous intricate operations meant to get closer to the terrorist while constantly being obstructed by Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe), his boss who sits comfortably in America and constructs ulterior plans from his cell phone. Hoffman’s belief is that there should be no emotional expense paid to those who perish because of their involvement with the intelligence agency, but Ferris is far more compassionate. Although Ferris is experiencing a divorce obviously caused by his demanding job, he still finds time to begin a relationship with Aiesha (Golshifteh Farahani) who he meets at a Jordanian hospital after getting bitten by rabid dogs.
There are twists in the plot that take Ferris to assorted countries with little reason given as to his purpose. The film has a tough time establishing any stability within its story, easily distracted with threads and images that seem superfluous within a deservedly serious tone.
It illustrates Hoffman as a man with time for his family if the cell phone is at hand, but this portrait is not consistent or realistic with the massive emotional and time commitment this occupation inflicts upon its holders.
The first-rate performances by both Crowe and DiCaprio is one of the strengths of the film, both playing men with an intense obsession to catch Al Saleem that overshadows even their sense of right and wrong. They seem to know this world all too well, understanding that there is no time for ethics in a world devoid of them. The action scenes are also effective and realistic with grave consequences that seem derived from possible circumstances shockingly normal to this region of people.
With the way Body of Lies utilizes different locales to tell its story of global terrorism, it immediately reminded me of Syriana, the tremendous 2005 film that chronicled our addiction to oil. Syriana applied precise focus to its subject matter, which is what makes it superior to Body of Lies.
The love story in Body of Lies seems wholly out of place in a world where danger is the only thing more prevalent than death. In Syriana, there was no time for love or family because the characters’ only motivation revolved around the greed and corruption encapsulated by oil.
The ending of Body of Lies is extraordinarily dull and joyful in a place where neither of those qualities can be achieved. The film misses a perfect opportunity to examine the fate of most people involved in terrorism intelligence, and whether the continuous cost is worth the minute gain.
It is a welcome diversion in a world of uncertainty about the economy, Iraq, and evildoers whose motive is difficult to comprehend. Body of Lies is a successful film that could have made a real statement about those subject matters which are vastly more important than the heroes’ love life.