Directed by Ridley Scott and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe, Body of Lies is a high budget adaptation of David Ignatius’s CIA thriller. The story follows CIA operative Roger Ferris (DiCaprio) on his mission against a terrorist cell in the Middle East. Under Scott’s steady directorial hand, the film flicks across multiple locations, with the focus maintained on Ferris’s involvement in the Islamic world.

Though never lacking interest, the film offers little extra spin on the fairly familiar story of ‘our hero’ up against hidden criminal masterminds. This lack of inspiration, however, is not the fundamental problem with Body of Lies. Rather, the key issue is with the film’s treatment of the situation in the Middle East, which teeters precariously between apology for, and defence of, America’s involvement.

Perhaps most difficult to bear is the painfully contrived romantic subplot between Ferris and his nurse, Aisha (played by Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani). The story finds Ferris in her home in Amman, winning over her family with his candid admittance of the Iraq War’s destructiveness. The short scene, in which he exchanges words with Aisha’s sister and begins to bond with her two nephews, comes across as a rather stilted attempt at cultural reconciliation.

Of course, such cynicism would probably be unwarranted, had the film not drawn the majority of its adrenaline focus from high-octane chase scenes in which the lead players blast through various middle-eastern residential areas. Ferris’s character development is at pains to persuade us of his guilty conscience, but, as a vehicle for sympathetic reconciliation, he remains unconvincing.

Both the character of Ferris and the film as a whole seem to be suffering from something of an identity crisis in this respect. In a world still profoundly affected by the impact of terrorist attacks and the wars in the Middle East, fictional portrayals must often fall either on the side of detached entertainment or serious exploration. The gung-ho American involvement shown in Body of Lies unfortunately seems faintly reminiscent of satirical representations like Team America: World Police.

That being the case, the action thriller nature of the film should have precluded its foray into the realm of political drama. Understated political comment, as characterised by Russell Crowe’s wonderfully infuriating portrayal of Ferris’s ignorant and inflammatory boss, would have set a far better tone for the film.
Russell Crowe also took one for the team in putting on a large (and I mean LARGE) amount of weight to play Ferris’s minder; his very obesity hints at a sickness lying deep in the heart of the American condition.

All this being said, if one is to press on and ignore these awkward elements, Body of Lies remains a slickly produced and fairly gripping action thriller. With Ridley Scott at the helm, the film has a consistently professional feel, and there’s enough tension and visual finesse to keep the popcorn flowing for the film’s two-hour runtime.

If poorly pitched political comment is a problem for you in cinema, then this definitely isn’t the film for you. While it may be a good alternative to Quantum of Solace, it is, unfortunately, equally unoriginal.

Three stars