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BODY OF LIES **** (2008) Movie Review by SEBASTIAN

Posted on October 23rd, 2008
Posted on October 23rd, 2008

I have seen comparisons between “Body of Lies” and director Ridley Scott’s previous war film “Black Hawk Down” made by other reviewers. Most site the former’s inability to make us feel something emotionally for the film’s characters. I don’t agree, but I think more importantly Ridley Scott is not a filmmaker whose work should be compared with previous efforts. Every film this artist has made has been an exploration of a new genre or sub-genre.

I think that “Body of Lies” relies on old-fashioned movie-making and cutting edge thrills to keep us disoriented and on the edge of our seats. When I sat down to view the movie, I felt a little tired and hoped that I wouldn’t nod off during the feature. Fortunately, I was enthralled. This was not a film I could walk away from. Ridley Scott and team provide some of the year’s best action scenes. The violence is in your face the tension is palpable. Was I watching the “Apocalypse Now” of my generation?! Well…. Almost.

“Body of Lies” will thrill you and keep you guessing for its whole two and a half hour running time. William Monahan turns in a fantastic script that manages to make the recent conflicts in the middle east seem more distant than they, in fact, are. Much like “Apocalypse Now”, this film’s story involves two very different soldiers, who, for most of the film are separated by great distance. Monahan is not unfamiliar with this concept. He used to near-perfection in Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed”.

The story will perhaps seem contrived and convoluted to some, but its not really. I found it fairly straight forward. It is a story that requires some thinking on the viewer’s end though. Its also an elegant espionage thriller that brings its points and its characters’ points of view vividly to life. Viewers hoping to see something with a very pointed agenda along the lines of the much-hyped but mostly boring “Syriana” will be very disappointed. I only caught myself thinking of politics one time during the film and it passed very quickly.

For those who don’t know, the story involves two C.I.A. operatives(one on the ground in Iraq and Jordan and one breezily calling the shots back in America) who butt heads over the best tactics to use in winning the war on terror. The role of the bold and seasoned, yet diplomatic agent Roger Ferris is played note perfect by Leonardo DiCaprio. No surprise there. Russell Crowe balances out the equation as the cynical and jaded head of operations Ed Hoffman. Calling all the shots the wrong way, and in doing so continually endangering the life of his man in the field and all of his contacts.

Of particular note is Mark Strong, who plays Jordanian Chief of Intelligence Hani Salaam. His character swaggers and talks in a way that is usually reserved for characters like James Bond. He comes off as a type of father figure to Ferris , who finds himself more and more alienated from his controller Hoffman. The man literally exudes charm and sophistication, and even at his worst(and he can deal out some blows) he still demands an austere respect from the viewer.

Russell Crowe turns in another good performance, but the problem lies in the foundation of his character. This man should be portrayed as tough instead of as a bloated fat cat who doesn’t even seem to care that much about his own children. If you make his character diligent in some areas, yet deeply flawed in others, the viewer begins to care more about what happens to him. I chalk this major goof up to director Scott, who should know better. If you want to see this kind of character interaction played to the max, check out brother Tony Scott’s Crimson Tide. Ridley could have taken a few cues from him with this character. I think maybe Crowe and Scott need some time away from each other or something. Ed Hoffman’s character could have been a modern day successor to Col. Kurtz from the aforementioned “Apocalypse Now”. And this film could’ve been a masterpiece. I wish it was.

In the end, this is a very effective, stylish, disturbing, and thoroughly riveting piece of cinema. And the first great post-911 war movie.

Four out of five stars.

Trailer below:

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