The trailer for Body of Lies succeeded only in making me think, Ridley’s brother already did this and better. But I suppose because Tony Scott’s movie was made, if not released, before 9/11 we ought to have expected an updated iteration, so why not by his brother who appears to be on a roll with plundering Tony’s assests (first Denzel, now SpyGame)?
Even so, my friend dragged me to Body of Lies tonight and because it was better than I expected I did enjoy it, although my expectations were somewhere around the elevation of Death Valley. I admit part of the fun was just getting to see DiCaprio make fun of Russell Crowe for being so fat. I found DiCaprio more likeable than usual, perhaps because his slightly Southern accent suits him better than his fake Boston or fake South African. Unfortunately the script lets him down more than once with badly integrated What-I’m-doing-now exposition.
But Crowe here is a supporting actor rather than co-star with DiCaprio. Beyond his This-is-no-fatsuit paunch, Crowe’s chosen behavioral tic this outing is peering over his reading glasses by several more inches than necessary. His character is indeed unscrupulous but at worst mildly zealous rather than malicious or — as the trailer implied through clever editing — treasonous. He’s kind of a less interesting version of PSH’s character in Charlie Wilson’s War.
In stark contrast to Crowe’s pantomiming, the most impressive acting turn is courtesy of Mark Strong who convincingly plays a Jordanian intelligence official, 180 degrees from his cockney gangster in Rocknrolla. Such is the range afforded by his Italian ethnicity (Strong is a stage name) that he wears both roles like a glove.
Like American Gangster, Body of Lies is a well-executed examplar of its genre without contributing any breakthroughs or changes to advance that genre. The film’s most interesting innovation is its relocation of the North by Northwest premise from the Eisenhower-era Cold War to the Bush-era Middle East, but this scenario, which could have been the focus of the movie, is under-exploited if not wasted — only not before undermining, by being too high-concept, the supposed realism of the film’s depiction of post-9/11 American espionage.
For a technothriller which must necessarily portray governmental agnecies as uber-competent, the proceedings are not very conspiratorial. Despite its half-hearted bids to be earnest and critical, Scott’s movie is ultimately a more old-fashioned than The Kingdom which received criticism for being alternatively too jingoistic or too relativistic. Not only does Body of Lies tamely steer clear of both extremes but it explicitly plays on the audience’s expectation to be denied the traditional Hollywood outcome (as happened in The Kingdom) in order to surprise us by delivering precisely such a traditional outcome!