Body of Lies

“Solid. Macho. Ridley Scott.” That’s what I said, with a shrug, to the expectant movie publicist on my way out of the Body of Lies press screening. The shrug wasn’t dismissive; I just couldn’t come up with anything else. I wasn’t sure anything else even needed to be said, by me or anybody.

 “Perfect,” she grinningly replied. I was glad to have pleased her. A lovely young woman. I felt like I hadn’t seen a woman in a long time. But that’s normal after a couple of hours of solid macho Ridley Scott.

Anyway, this space allows–nay, demands–more than four words and a shrug; my duty here is solemn. Fortunately, so is the movie. Body of Lies is basically just another globe-hopping, edge-of-the-seat war-on-terror thriller, or whatever hyped-up hyphenate you prefer, and as such more memorable than, say, Traitor, but less so than, say, the Bourne movies. It’s a pithy testimony of Scott’s powers and his limits.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays a wiry, Arabic-speaking CIA field agent scuttling around among Middle Eastern hot spots to gather intelligence on terrorists. This is not nice work if you can get it, and involves stabbing dogs and people when required, getting fragments of your point man’s bones blown into your face by a close-range RPG blast, and generally trusting people only enough to be ready in the event of their capture to shoot them in the head–whether to stanch sensitive information or to spare your former confidants the inevitable agonies of torture should be determined case by case.

Leo’s orders, from a drawling and doughy stateside superior played by Russell Crowe, tend to conflict with his generally decent instincts, and to imply the order-giver’s conspicuous detachment from the situation on the ground.

True enough, Crowe operates from a plenty-secure-seeming homeland, whether he’s cozying up in some Langley war room with high-altitude surveillance spread out on the plasma screens or glibly fielding frantic reports on the hands-free while half-distracted by hurrying his tots off to school in the D.C. ’burbs.

And yet, he meddles. Not surprisingly, just about every plan–to earn cooperation from the Jordanian intelligence chief (Mark Strong), to protect a Dubai architect (Ali Suliman) whom the Americans position as a decoy without his permission or knowledge, to bring a notorious terrorist ringleader (Alon Aboutboul) to justice–does not go according to plan. It goes, pretty much, to hell.

To be fair, there is one noteworthy woman involved with all of this. She’s Golshifteh Farahani, as a beautiful young Iranian-born nurse who, notwithstanding the unlikelihood of the circumstances or her token display of coy resistance, seems perfectly available to become Leo’s love interest. Perfectly positioned, too, to become a pawn in his now-it’s-personal endgame. So that’s about it for being fair.

Body of Lies was adapted from the novel by journalist David Ignatius, who knows whereof he speaks from stints reporting on the CIA and the Middle East, and imbues the story with a dutiful reporter’s all-purpose skepticism. Still, and even with a script by William Monahan, who wrote The Departed, it lacks real tragic resonance–probably because, like Crowe’s clumsy CIA puppeteer, it also lacks humility and constructive insight.

But Scott didn’t seem to want that anyway. He goes with what he knows: a strong pulse, a firm command of grimy, violent action, and good actors who know just what to do.

So maybe the movie’s so self-actualized as a movie that it’s supposed to feel tedious to describe it in words?

I’m shrugging here.