Wednesday, October 15, 2008

"Body of Lies" More Conventional Than Remarkable

Anytime acclaimed director Ridley Scott teams up with A-list actors it’s worth keeping on eye on. Such is the case with Scott’s new film, “Body of Lies”, which has Scott working with Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio to tackle the modern espionage and terrorism genre.

Based on David Ignatius’ 2007 novel of the same name, “Lies” follows covert CIA operative Roger Ferris (DiCaprio) and his work in Jordan trying to track down known terrorist mastermind Al-Saleem. With the help of stay-at-home boss Ed Hoffman (Crowe), Ferris devises a plan to locate Al-Saleem. Ferris is also assisted by Chief of Jordanian Intelligence Hani Salaam (Mark Strong) who’s cultural differences with Ferris and Hoffman threatens the operation.

While the concept behind “Lies” is rather fresh, this spy-game thriller turns up more conventional than remarkable. Don’t get me wrong though, “Lies” is a very interesting, convincing and engaging film with an at least mostly plausible story. Scott’s veteran presence shows off in the film as everything is very polished and technically well done. Being the landmark reaching director Scott has been in the past sets the expectations bar that much higher. “Lies” is not a masterpiece and groundbreaking reworking of the espionage genre much like the films “Blade Runner” and “Alien” revolutionized the science fiction genre more than 25 years ago, but it’s still a solid film.

What kept the film a notch above average for me were the great performances by DiCaprio and Crowe. DiCaprio, the true lead in the film, plays the on the rise CIA agent very well. This performance is another sign of his maturation as an actor that has been shown over the past few years. Crowe gives life to what otherwise would be a prototypical military executive slouch of a character. Although the two mostly interact via cell phone I felt their relationship was a strong point for an otherwise average script. It’s not a relationship of stark nature that will make you ponder for days, but it’s an enjoyable one to follow as plans unravel and everything gets laid out on the table.

As I mentioned before, “Lies” places more into the conventional field. The main problem for me was that the film never got gritty or deep enough. Sure, there’s violence in the form of explosions, torture, and weapon play in addition to a whole lot of tension filled danger, but not enough for the subject matter. In the end the screenplay by William Monahan doesn’t dig far enough into terrorist activity and only gives a partial look at the behind the scenes of both the CIA and the terrorist groups. The lens seemed primarily focused on DiCaprio and Crowe, which is no problem at all considering their excellent performances, but more might have been achieved by expanding a bit with the rest of the characters. For example, DiCaprio’s love interest Aisha was a cookie cutter version of what she should have been. The character simply comes off as something placed into the film to serve as a plot device.

Outside of a few flaws, the film simply works as a whole. “Lies” consistently looks great as Scott’s experience took over and helped the steady shot nature of the film. The inevitable shaky cam syndrome shown in a lot of modern war and action films is kept to the extreme minimum which works wonders for this thriller. In addition to the technical merits, “Lies” is decently paced. Scott provides a good combination of excellent drama, smooth dialogue and intense action scenes.

While “Lies” won’t be mentioned much come Oscar season, it’s still a solid entry into the espionage genre. The on-the-ground spy play is very fun to watch and could serve as a good basis for future espionage films. If Monahan’s script had scratched a little deeper more could have been achieved considering the films superb presentation. Regardless, “Body of Lies” is worth your time if you find the genre interesting or simply enjoy watching two actors put forth terrific performances.


Patrick Roberts said...

Apparently Ridley Scott enjoys working with Russell Crowe; and he likes to make movies that raise international awareness (i'm thinking Blackhawk Down and Kingdom of Heaven)... that's a good thing i'd say

PenningtonNY10 said...

Yea, that seems to be the theme.