It was only last April that Washington Post columnist David Ignatius's bestselling novel of the same name was released. Filming on Body of Lies began in September. How did they do that, and what was the rush anyway? We're guaranteed years more of these movies about Iraq and the "War on Terror" (a veritable genre is developing), so what was accomplished by fast-tracking this one for an October surprise?
As it happens, the biggest surprise in Body of Lies is the fact that it's not a better movie. Sir Ridley Scott's track record has been shaky in the last few years (though I don't think either American Gangster nor A Good Year were as outright terrible as some people think), but this is still a director who helmed a Best Picture winner within the last decade (not to mention Blade Runner decades ago), so the name automatically carries a fairly high level of expectation. Body of Lies marks the third time in as many years Scott has directed Russell Crowe, and the first time he's worked with the reliably great Leonardo DiCaprio (Blood Diamond, The Departed).
Unfortunately, this truly A-list trio has produced a truly C-grade movie. Body of Lies is admittedly better than several of its cousins (The Kingdom, Rendition), but despite an experienced director and committed cast, it still ends up achieving only mediocrity. It's almost as if Ridley Scott knew that substance was lacking but just decided to produce his way out of it and hope nobody noticed. Significantly slicker and more visually realistic than its predecessors, Body of Lies commands your attention only to tell you something annoyingly trivial. What was the point of this again?
Oh yeah, to celebrate jingoism and reinforce toxic stereotypes about the Middle East. Look, I'm not saying terrorism isn't a real threat and that these movies don't have some educational potential, but at this point the "rogue American hero infiltrating terror cells and romancing the beautiful local woman" is a pretty stale set-up, and we never learn any lesson at the end anyway, do we? The number of clichés on display here is almost breathtaking; it's disconcerting and frankly insulting, for example, to see CIA agents continue to disguise themselves in foreign countries by wearing track jackets, sunglasses, and floppy hats, successfully establishing themselves as the only people in the country ever dressed like that.
But I'm asking for too much if I'm asking for a new story. It's just that I would enjoy something fresh, a crazy conspiracy theory or a shocking twist at the end - anything new. If I'm not going to get anything meaningful out of these movies, at least entertain me. Russell Crowe knows this, otherwise why would he ham up his performance as a hilarious hybrid of Donald Rumsfeld and George W. Bush? Leonardo DiCaprio (whose "costume" here is almost comical: brown contact lenses and a lumberjack goatee?) knows this, otherwise why would he leave me near tears laughing at the scene with the children at lunch, one of the funniest I've seen all year? In fact if it wasn't for Crowe, Russell, and what should finally be a star-making turn for Mark Strong (Sunshine; Stardust), the movie would be almost unbearable to sit through, even if it is kind of pretty to look at.
Hollywood surrenders to contrivances and clichés yet again...
Writing - 7
Acting - 10
Production - 8
Emotional Impact - 7
Music - 4
Social Significance - 5
Total: 39/50= 78% = C+