[Screen It]


(2008) (Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe) (R)

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Dramatic Thriller: A Middle East based CIA field operative clashes with his supervisor back in the states as the two try to find and stop a terrorist ringleader.
Roger Ferris (LEONARDO DiCAPRIO) is a CIA field operative who's so good at what he does that he pretty much has free reign in his Middle East territory. That is, except for the fact that his supervisor back in the states, Ed Hoffman (RUSSELL CROWE), actually has final say over their collective quest to stop terrorists.

After Roger and his partner Bassam (OSCAR ISAAC) are injured while investigating a terrorist outpost in Iraq that might be under the control of ringleader Al-Saleem (ALON ABOUTBOUL) -- who's called for bombings worldwide -- the field operative is sent to Jordan. There, he's assisted by Skip (VINCE COLOSIMO) in working with Hani Salaam (MARK STRONG), the head of Jordanian anti-terrorism efforts.

After being injured yet again and tended to by Iranian nurse Aisha (GOLSHIFTEH FARAHANI) to whom he's attracted, Roger decides the only way to find Al-Saleem and his men -- who've abandoned technology in order to avoid detection -- is to create a fake terrorist who will challenge Al-Saleem's ego.

With the aid of CIA tech wizard Garland (SIMON McBURNEY), they target architect Omar Sadiki (ALI SULIMAN) as their patsy. From that point on, Roger and Ed clash over how to proceed, with the former being concerned with collateral damage the latter creates in their quest to find and stop the terrorists.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
If you've ever had a boss who just doesn't seem to get it, in terms of what you do and why, as well as the repercussions of his or her choices, and/or if you've had an employee who's a know-it-all and constantly complains about you not understanding what's occurring while you have a firm grasp and eye on the end goal, you'll find someone with whom you can identify in "Body of Lies."

Granted, unless you're involved in the counter-terrorism industry, you might not have the experience of realizing the boss' orders will mean collateral damage (both physically and geopolitically) or know that if your subordinate doesn't complete his or her task, a terrorist strike might occur. Both of those elements (and then some) are on the line in this dramatic thriller from director Ridley Scott.

Working from William Monahan's adaptation of David Ignatius' novel of the same name, the filmmaker takes us all over the globe (identified each time via onscreen titles) as the main characters -- played by Scott regular Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio -- go about their duties that have the same desired conclusion, but vastly different ways of getting there.

The pic has the look and feel of one of those realistically gritty government thrillers, and it's certainly concerned with an important central issue (terrorism) and theme (trust no one, unless they ultimately really know what they're doing). By showing the might and efficiency as well as the extremes and travails of U.S. anti-terrorism efforts, the film should play well to both the right and left sides of the aisle.

Yet, despite the presence of two magnetic stars, a big-budget veneer, and actions scenes that are properly exciting and visually impressive, the film never really grips the viewer as one expects it could and should. Part of that obviously stems from the fact that this sort of material, both dramatically and action-oriented, has been covered before in previous films, some better, some worse at covering the subject matter.

Without any sort of overall novelty, the filmmakers try to get a little fancy with the plot eventually unleashing a new level of subterfuge. In short, a patsy unknowingly becomes a new terrorist leader, all in hopes of his presence drawing out the one the CIA spooks are really after. Needing a potential complication to accompany that, they throw in a pseudo romance plot between DiCaprio's character and the nurse one played by Golshifteh Farahani (who tends to his wounds, of which there are many).

While some viewers might appreciate it lightening the mood a bit (including a cute scene with her character's nephews playing covert operatives detailing what food their mother has prepared that the American should avoid), the subplot feels contrived, especially when it's all too obvious what's ultimately going to stem from it.

The other problem is that DiCaprio and Crowe don't actually spend much time on screen together. There are a few brief scenes, but most of the time the two are on the phone, with Leo doing the dirty work as Crowe pulls double-duty, ordering directives while tending to domestic issues (as in attending soccer games, helping his young son hit the toilet, etc.).

The symbolic point of that (out of shape government official seemingly isn't paying undivided attention and/or isn't concerned about that collateral damage, while the trim, cynical and Middle East appreciating agent and others put their lives on the line for him) won't be lost on many, if any viewers, but the latter will probably wish the two stars actually faced off more in person.

All of that said, the film is easy enough to watch, even with all of the plotting, locales and minor characters who come and go during the 120-some minute runtime. The action scenes are good, which also holds true for the performances (most notably DiCaprio, but also Mark Strong who's terrific as the head of Jordanian counter-terrorism). I only wish it engaged me on more of an emotional level, one element (along with the removal of the nurse subplot) that could have potentially turned this from a good dramatic thriller into a great one. "Body of Lies" rates as a 6 out of 10.

Reviewed October 7, 2008 / Posted October 10, 2008

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