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Body Of Lies

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Body Of Lies
Released on Friday, Nov 21 2008

Director: Ridley Scott
Screenwriter: William Monahan
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio (interview), Russell Crowe, Mark Strong, Golshifteh Farahani, Alon Abutbul
Running time: 128 mins
Certificate: 15

Ridley Scott's Body Of Lies is a rarity among modern spy movies in that it actually involves espionage. Those hankering for the authenticity that James Bond (who last undertook spy work in From Russia With Love) and Jason Bourne have left behind will appreciate this well-honed War on Terror drama.

The story is set in motion when a suicide bomber hits an apartment building in Manchester, leaving a trail of bodies and a decimated inner city housing block. With fingers pointing at Al-Saleem (Abutbul), the leader of a newly-formed terrorist group, the CIA teams field operative Roger Ferris and veteran strategic expert Ed Hoffman to take down the extremists. After initially hitting brick walls, the pair fabricate a terrorist cell in order to flush out Al-Saleem.

Body Of Lies is a gripping if uncomfortable watch. It trades in the sheen, glamour and established conventions of the spy genre in favour of chasing something closer to the truth. When Ferris ruthlessly murders a man about to fall into the hands of the enemy in the film's opening half-hour, you realise that you're in for a further 90 minutes of unrelenting bleakness. Body Of Lies is this year’s The Kingdom, but without that film's forceful jingoism or popcorn factor.

Scott's primary interest lies in investigating the machinations of intelligence in the US and abroad. In DiCaprio, he has a capable fulcrum from which to swing Ferris between the CIA and the Jordanian General Intelligence Division (GID). The dynamic between Ferris and Hoffman presents pertinent questions and dilemmas - as the "man on the ground" Ferris believes that forming relationships and understanding people is the only way to establish some kind of truce between two sides with opposing ideals. Contrastingly, master manipulator Hoffman sits in a CIA control room dictating missions from afar with high-powered spy cameras.

Meanwhile, Ferris attempts to find favour with GID head Hani (Strong) in Amman. Hani is sophisticated, suave, always impeccably dressed but with a hint of danger (he laughs off claims of "fingernail torture factories") - a man Westernised, perhaps, by seeing too many Sean Connery Bond movies. Running alongside is an underdeveloped cross-cultural romance between Ferris and Iranian nurse Aisha (Farahani). It aims to evoke Richard Burton's The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, but ultimately falls short of finding any piercing emotional resonance.

Scott checks off spy film accessories (exotic locations, sinister villain, ambiguous allies, frenetic action, romantic interest) and grinds through the motions in the movie's first half - ambling along without generating any narrative momentum. Body Of Lies only gains traction when the far-fetched plan to deceive the enemy with a fake terrorist cell is unveiled.

Crowe and Strong give charismatic turns and DiCaprio delivers a solid performance underneath straggly facial hair, though he still can't quite shake off the albatross of Jack Dawson. A role switch with Crowe as a badass, burnt-out spy and DiCaprio as an arrogant tech whiz could have worked a treat.

A slight misfire for Scott, Body Of Lies has in its favour a unique view of espionage that is brutal and terrifying, no more so when it climaxes in a vicious interrogation scene. In the wake of America's shifting political landscape, there's value to be taken from the film's coda. When Hoffman, resembling Bill Clinton but beholden to the Bush administration's aggressive foreign policy, questions Ferris's patriotism, his young colleague (a mirror of Obama?) hits back tellingly. "Walk out on me and you're walking out on America?" says Hoffman. "Be careful calling yourself America," replies Ferris.



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