October 16, 2008

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Body of Lies (R)
Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe make trouble all over the Middle East in the bafflingly pointless spy movie Body of Lies.

Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe) is a vaguely George W. Bush-sounding C.I.A. muckety-muck who is managing Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio), a C.I.A. field agent who also has an inexplicably sort-of-Southern accent. Roger is all boots on the ground, working the local sources, using careful planning and timing to try to find a thread to pull on a terrorist organization. But when he tells Ed Hoffman that, for example, a certain building in Jordan is possibly an al-Qaida-like group’s safe house, Ed puts a whole bunch of unsubtle agents on surveillance and nearly blows the whole operation. Ed also gets in the way of Roger’s relationship with Hani (Mark Strong), the head of Jordanian security with whom Roger is building hard-won trust. Why? Well maybe Ed is stupid — a stand-in for the movie’s criticisms about a bumbling, charge-ahead-without-considering-the-long-game Bush administration. Or maybe (which the movie also sorta suggests) Ed is stupid like a fox — wheels within wheels, helping you with your operation while really running his. Wouldn’t that make for a fun spy story?

Yes. Perhaps this movie’s creators should have considered something like that. Or not, and just gone for a good guys/bad guys shoot-’em-up full of explosions. Either way would have been fine with me. Either way would have been more entertaining than this tangled web of motives that equal out to nothing. There are quicker and less wearying ways of saying that the generals (or their intelligence agency equivalents) aren’t listening to the soldiers on the ground, and more interesting characters than the renegade-cop type that Roger basically is. The movie hints at another side to his character when he starts a relationship with a nurse Aisha (Golshifteh Farahani — who is actually a quite compelling actress and needs a bigger role in a better movie), but that subplot sort of fizzles out and by the movie’s end feels like the response to some studio note like “hey, can we squeeze in a girl into the action?”

Body of Lies has its fun international danger and violence moments, its blooms of explosions and its gadgets and intrigues. But two hours of wandering around the Arab world ultimately provides only medium entertainment and no point to make its limper moments worthwhile. C+

Rated R for strong violence including some torture and for language throughout. Directed by Ridley Scott and written by William Monahan (from a novel by David Ignatius), Body of Lies is two hours and eight minutes long and distributed in wide release by Warner Bros.