Ridley Scott Brings Body of Lies to Life
by Alex Congrove


Ridley Scott’s Body of Lies, based on the book by David Ignatius, is the story of CIA operative Roger Farris (Leonardo DiCaprio) attempting to foil a radical Islamic terror cell under the supervision of Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe). Farris collaborates and pools resources with the Jordanian intelligence agency, headed by a slick, cigar-smoking man named Hani (Mark Strong). Typical of spy thrillers, it includes deceit and manipulation, and a spy of remarkable abilities and destructiveness. 

The plot traces Farris’ growing disillusionment and disapproval of his role and that of the CIA in suppressing terrorism, which includes using people or “assets” to gain information, and framing innocent people to use as bait for terrorist targets. This culminates in Farris’ capture, gruesome and cringe-inducing torture, and subsequent rescue through a series of “convenient” plot developments including a romance between Farris and his Arab nurse, a fake terrorist organization, and a man providing technological assistance from a shed in the woods near Washington. 

The main reason to see this movie is the acting of DiCaprio’s character, an obedient operative who gets tired of being manipulated and manipulating others, resulting in anger reminiscent of his character from The Departed, but more restrained. Crowe, putting on weight to appear as an out of shape bureaucrat, is the one pulling the strings. His well-done performance and calm, practical, nearly heartless countenance contrasts with the anger and frustration Farris expresses, to produce a comical effect. At one point, Farris angrily questions Hoffman and ends the conversation with “Go fuck yourself,” to which Hoffman replies, “whatever.” 

The global action of the film is sprawling, originating in a bomb detonation in London, to Jordan, Dubai, and the epicenter of the intelligence activities: Washington D.C. The film is photographed beautifully from the far overhead images of a satellite feed, to surveying footage of the tops of the cluster Middle-eastern hovels, and images of the desert looming in the background with haziness or perpetual dusts blurring the mountains and enclosing the desert. 

It’s easiest to describe Body of Lies by dividing it in half, because the plot action is largely symmetrical. The first half of the movie is the CIA’s struggle and brutal tactics to acquire information and prevent terrorist attacks. The second half, specifically the last 30 minutes of the film, show a reversal of fortune for DiCaprio’s character. 

Despite the required romance for plot development, the film is overall good and worth seeing for the humor of Crowe’s overweight bureaucrat alone. But there is also the strength in DiCaprio’s performance and the occasionally subtle, although increasingly conspicuous, social commentary interjected into a solidly crafted spy thriller.