What is most interesting about Body of Lies is that it manages to rise above the predictability and formula that plagues the vast majority of espionage films. It is post-Bourne wrapped up in a more mature Bond plot with a politically conscious edge. Yet it never feels like it is stealing elements of those, more using them as a launch-pad for its own ideas. Though the film itself is sometimes guilty of falling back into safety, it remains consistently exciting and intently engaging even when those moments occur because of how keenly detailed and acted it is. It makes it standout as a cut above many of its contemporaries.
We follow Roger Ferris, a ground CIA operative who moves throughout the Middle East in an attempt to lure out and capture terrorist Al- Saleem. Of course his practices involve plenty of lies and deceit as he tries to retain the support of the head of the Jordanian Intelligence. Ferris is played by Leonardo DiCaprio who makes an excellent centrepiece for the film. DiCaprio is a great choice for the role, given his superb ability to convey emotion and his delivery making even mundane dialogue seem important. I'm not sure many could have been as appealing as he is here. Ferris grows into a more interesting character as the film progresses. His disillusion with the lies he has to sow and backstabbing from his superiors make for some of the most intriguing moments, whilst providing some welcomed morality that never feels forced.
His superior Hoffman is played terrifically by Russell Crowe, whose weight gain and distinct accent allow him to become the character. Crowe is at his best playing characters like this. Confident, forcefully honest, almost egotistical, yet understanding the importance of the situation. They're traits he always nails. Hoffman appears all-knowing, frequently surveying from the air, keeping constant contact with Ferris as he aids him in setting up a fictional terrorist group to smoke out Al-Saleem. He also clashes with the Jordanian head Hani Salaam, who is convincingly played by Mark Strong, a man who only asks that the CIA don't lie to him, which is something that Ferris finds increasingly difficult to avoid.
The interactions and differences between these three main characters is definitely the film's most interesting aspect. All three have distinct personalities that are well developed, conduct their jobs in very different ways and are portrayed by actors who always convince. The scenes that bring them together are always gripping, Ferris meeting Hoffman in Washington to devise a new plan, Hani questioning how Ferris could lie to him, the three of them discussing their mission. They all share a suspicion of one another that is fascinating to see play out.
There is a romance between Ferris and an Iranian doctor that is nicely played out and expands the characters. It also offers us an interesting look at the perception of a relationship with someone from the West in the Middle East. However, the issue is that it doesn't really fit in with the tone of the film and ends up becoming a plot device later on in the film which makes it feel rather forced. The action scenes and shootouts are always very fluid and exciting to watch. Notably, there is a weight to them that makes the injuries feel painful, these operatives don't just bounce back up like in so many spy flicks. There's a torture scene near the end that is brilliantly intense and really keeps you guessing as to its outcome.
With Ridley Scott at the helm the film is fantastic to look at and his direction is as smooth as it's ever been. In fact I don't think the Middle East has ever looked this vibrant and authentic on screen before. Scott directs the film masterfully. He manages to make the dialogue driven scenes feel just as tense as the action ones. I especially like the use of aerial surveillance, as it gave the film a much wider scope and added to the feeling of always being watched. Scott is saddled with a script that can be jargon heavy, but he's able to make it understandable and technical without dumbing it down or filling it with dialogue that nobody would comprehend. The funny thing is that this is type of film Scott's Brother Tony would usually at home doing, so it's nice to see him try his hand at it and go for a more subtle approach.
Despite its amalgamation of various espionage tropes and some misplaced plot points, Body of Lies is an exceptional genre film. It manages to work as both an exciting action thriller and as a more controlled politically-charged piece. The story is packed with deception and intrigue, just right for this type of film. The main characters are well-rounded and captivating to watch, they guide us through the film and I always wanted to see what their next move was going to be. It is a layered story and it's impressive just how well it is conveyed. Plenty of praise should go to Scott, his three leading men and script writer William Monahan. They have crafted a film that is well- balanced, a vivid portrait of the CIA in the Middle East and makes a number of potentially clichéd aspects feel fresh again.