Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by:William Monahan
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Mark Strong, Golshifteh Farahani, Ali Suliman, Simon McBurney
Released: October 9, 2008
Grade: A-

Body Of Lies is a fast-paced thriller which follows a CIA operative and the challenges he faces in tracking terrorist leaders in the Middle East.  It’s based on the novel by David Ignatius, a journalist well researched on the topic having covered it for years in the The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post.

The essence of the story is best summed up by a quote from Ignatius himself – “The spy business is a lot like journalism.  It’s about identifying people who know things, gaining their trust, and then getting them to cross a line and tell you things they might not want to initially.”

You’ll quickly understand how the system works when you see the film’s opening sequence.  Roger Ferris (DiCaprio) is the one of the CIA’s leading agents in the Middle East.  Through the help of his sources, he’s tracked down the member of a dangerous terrorist cell who is to be used in an upcoming suicide bombing.  This guy doesn’t want to die and so has approached Ferris as his only option.  He’ll reveal everything he knows about his group’s terrorist operations in return for safe passage to the United States so as to start a new life.

Ferris agrees to the deal and gets the information but his boss back home, Ed Hoffman (Crowe), doesn’t quite see it that way.  Now that this guy has “spilled his guts”, he’s no longer any use.  Hoffman has no intention of holding up the CIA’s end of the bargain and he gives Ferris the order to shoot him on site.

It may sound harsh but it highlights the fact that if you want to get results in this profession, you have to be prepared to act without a conscience.  It also shows that if you trust the wrong person, you’re more than likely to end up dead.

This is a recurrent theme throughout what is a fairly solid film from director Ridley Scott (American Gangster, Black Hawk Down).  The way it has been made reminded me of another recent Leonardo DiCaprio film, Blood Diamond.  Instead of highlighting a serious issue by creating a serious drama, the filmmakers get their message across by creating an action-packed Hollywood blockbuster filled with large explosions and close shaves.  This might deter more discerning filmgoers but it will definitely attract a wider audience.

The film is spread across a number of countries but given the limitations, most of the scenes were shot in Morocco.  You won’t notice the difference… or maybe you will now because I’ve told you.  This is a high quality production and Scott shows once again that he’s one of the world’s leading directors.

Leonardo DiCaprio delivers yet another terrific performance.  Is there anything he can’t do?  There are several scenes in the film where he speaks Arabic and he sure sounds believable.  Russell Crowe’s role isn’t as juicy and it’s actually a little clichéd.  He has a cocky attitude which I felt was over-the-top.  There are several scenes where you see him put his job before his family and I thought these were overdone also.

The biggest highlight of the film for me was the performance of actor British Mark Strong as Hani Salaam, the head of the Jordanian General Intelligence Department.  He shares several scenes with DiCaprio and comes across as a cool, calculating individual.  You get a sense of his power from the way he speaks and the way he dresses.  He’s a man who knows how to get results.

I enjoyed Body Of Lies but was a touch disappointed at the same time.  Perhaps my expectations were too high given the calibre of the cast and crew.  As interesting as the story is, there was a niggling feeling in the back of my head that I’d seen this kind of movie before.  Some of the plot twists felt more formulaic than realistic.

Despite my trivial misgivings, let me finish on a positive note by saying that Body Of Lies is an adrenalin pumping movie that I’d happily watch again.