WARNER BROTHERS PICTURES
Director Ridley Scott, known best for “American Gangster,” “Black Hawk Down” and “Gladiator,” poses one of the questions that has become the ‘Great Divide’ inside the American government in the first minutes of his new political thriller, “Body of Lies:” “Do we belong there, or do we not?”
Much like the lawmakers that continually dance around issues, Scott chooses not to answer the inquiry directly, but has rather composed a gruesomely vivid and disturbing cinematic love note to the waning American spirit.
Working in marked contrasts and flipping through an impressive list of counties and locales as if they were pages in a comic book, “Body of Lies” is a nightmarish vision of the everyman’s war. The action follows Roger Ferris (Academy Award nominee Leonardo DiCaprio), a talented CIA operative, in his pursuit of a major terrorist leader named Al-Saleem. The plot also follows the influence of the pervasive and tactless agent, Ed Hoffman (Academy Award winner Russell Crowe), who oversees him. The film frequently surges between sharp visualizations of what could nearly be described as gratuitous violence and video game-esque portrayals of varying mediums, ranging from gun sight to the BBC.
The plot itself is nothing revolutionary for its genre, and could almost be described as a generic wartime statement, this time focusing on the intricate reciprocity of global intelligence and the need for words and truth, with the latter in short supply.
DiCaprio is in top form as Ferris, a spy with a heart too big for his badge, and a soft spot for sincerity. His character elevates the film to a higher level; through his devotion we are confronted with an examination of the legendary “American spirit.” During this age in which we’ve lost our collective way as a country and national pride seems only to be a mutual sense of impending doom, DiCaprio has crafted a character who transcends his nationality to summon a dynamic affection for humanity itself, regardless of the location of their birth.
Though DiCaprio and Crowe share equal billing, the screen time for the latter is notably lower, and where DiCaprio’s Ferris is quite often spotted with a gun aimed at a possible infidel, Crowe’s Hoffman is more likely seen carrying a soccer ball or loading a minivan. Rather than dive into the action himself, Hoffman watches the stirring confrontations experienced by his romantically outdated and talented puppet Ferris, either by way of a television monitor or through a cell phone. War to him appears to have less immediacy and even fewer lasting consequences than the newest episode of “Dancing with the Stars.” Ferris acts as just another contestant on his warped personal reality show. Hoffman represents everything Americans hate to see in themselves - stupidity, laziness, ignorance, domesticity and drunkenness - but when confronted with an incarnation as grotesquely detestable as Crowe conjures, it is impossible to look away from our own reflection.
“Body of Lies” is a transition from the flashy summer blockbusters dwelling in multiplexes to the more socially focused realist films of the fall and winter seasons. The film takes on too much and nearly collapses from the weight. While DiCaprio and Crowe create believable and entrancing characters respectively, the chaos that frames their quieter moments often overwhelms their engaging personalities in the movie’s show-offish self-enamoring. Films addressing the Iraq War, from “Lions for Lambs,” “Rendition,” and “In The Valley of Elah,” to more recent fair as “The Lucky Ones,” have been effectively classified as box office poison. Audiences haven consistently displayed their desire to separate cinema and sandbox, and Scott noticeably pushes too hard in his quest to escape this entanglement.
Throughout the course of “Body of Lies,” viewers will see chopped and bloody fingers, brutal beatings and embedded bone shards, but the most memorable and appreciated moments do not include fire or gore. These moments surface when Hoffman and Ferris are confronted with a possibility more terrifying than any gun or instrument of torture; that the ultimate act of love toward a country on the verge of a cataclysm is simply to let it go.