I remember watching this movie some time ago but for the life of me, I couldn’t remember anything about it. Is this a spy thriller, an action war movie, or a political drama? You could argue it’s a little bit of all these things, so, let’s see what we really got here. Body of Lies is a fast-paced, superficial, and quite blunt action thriller set in the Middle East. We will be following a skilled CIA operative on the trail of a dangerous terrorist who’s going to need all the help he can get to catch him. Directed by Ridley Scott and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe, this is a big movie. And it has that big movie vibe.
It opens with a bang, a literal bang, and from that point on, it doesn’t stop moving. We will be traveling to Iraq, Jordan, Syria, and UAE while trying to stay alive and catch this terrorist Al-Saleem. So, a standard Middle East tour with lively cities, cinematic countryside, and classic close-quarters action. The movie offers a dual perspective on all of these events. While Leo is dodging bullets in narrow streets, his handler Russel is safely operating in Washington. However, this element of the story is left somewhat unexplored just like almost all the others. It would appear that everything was sacrificed to keep the story going forward.
And satisfy your average viewer. I think you already know what this means because we will get one hell of a forced romantic subplot. The same goes for the stereotypical characters that feel like cardboard cutouts. Moreover, some of the casting choices (Mark Strong, Oscar Isaacs) feel odd, to say the least. Leonardo DiCaprio was sleepwalking through most of the movie but at least Russell Crowe was on point. And don’t get me wrong, Strong and Isaacs gave excellent performances I just don’t understand why they didn’t get actors who would better fit these characters.
On the other hand, you can bet your sweet ass that all the technical specs are going to be awesome. We’ve got that juicy cinematography from Black Hawk Down that we all love so much. And there will be quite a few well-choreographed action scenes including several high-octane chases. All of this makes Body of Lies a messy but entertaining action thriller with an exotic setting. The movie does feature scenes that depict the true nature of black ops warfare. For the real stuff, you will have to check out Zero Dark Thirty. It’s funny to think that this movie would be much better if they decided to make it as commercial as possible.
Add more action, cut the romance subplot to a minimum along with thirty minutes of runtime and you’ve got a sleek movie under ninety minutes. Everything we talked about so far is in stark contrast to the movie Ridley Scott and William Monahan made just three years earlier, Kingdom of Heaven. As for Leo’s performance, just check out Blood Diamond he made two years earlier. And some of the scenes are just silly like the two-man raid on a terrorist stash house. That’s just not how things work in reality, so you might call Body of Lies a popcorn movie with a rather serious subject.
Traitor is a far better movie or even The Kingdom. If, however, you’re looking for something a bit more entertaining check out Kandahar and War Dogs. To make things even stranger, Body of Lies is actually based on a novel by David Ignatius. You would expect something more nuanced and complex from a novel but then again, I have not read it and it could be that they butchered it.
Director: Ridley Scott
Writers: William Monahan, David Ignatius
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Mark Strong, Golshifteh Farahani, Alon Aboutboul, Oscar Isaac
Fun Facts: The big explosion you see in the movie is very much real without any use of CGI and a hell of a lot use of pyrotechnics.