"Body of Lies" is a mediocre espionage film tarted up as a prestigious offering, cast with blinding stars, directed by a once mighty visionary, and drawing from topical source material meant to provoke chills and international thought. However esteemed the package may be, "Lies" is a turgid Middle Eastern thriller, firing blanks as an action submission and presenting a wet match to light the fire of political discourse.
As a C.I.A. operative, Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio, appropriately furious) fights tooth and nail every day to maintain his cover and keep one step ahead of terrorists during his rounds of the Middle East. As Ferris's boss, Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe) enjoys the easy life in Washington overseeing perilous missions, abusing Ferris's exasperation to his own advantage. Sent to Jordan to cozy up to intelligence officer Hani Salaam (Mark Strong), Ferris begins a campaign of deception to help nab an influential terrorist leader, only to find his own methods are starting to spiral out of control, leaving him and his newfound Iranian love (Golshifteh Farahani) wide open to vicious retaliation and the potential loss of American support.
Serviceable is a great way to describe "Body of Lies." There's nothing bone-rattling about this presentation of paranoia, instead the film takes a paint-by-numbers approach to wartime maneuvering and geopolitical happenings. Director Ridley Scott focuses on his polish this time around, making "Lies" a pretty picture with pretty stars, forgetting this genre is always best served with gritted teeth and an antagonistic point of view. Instead we have "The Kingdom" all over again: a topical thriller that uses Hollywood convention to limbo under any real confrontation or political stance. "Lies" isn't nearly as dopey as 2007's Peter Berg sleeping pill, but it comes close, passing up an opportune moment to enrage audiences with a stark display of terrorism run amuck to skip through a field of cliché that wastes the monumental talents of the cast.
Scripted by William Monaghan (based on David Ignatius's book), "Lies" takes a sprawling, globe-trotting look at the mind games of terrorists and those who enlist in the fight to curb violence. Scott is predictably skilled at getting a sense of scope into the film, observing Ferris as he rubber bands all over the map to maintain his cover and integrity. "Lies" generates location recognition wonderfully, and I have little reservation with the wonderful technical achievements of the film. What bothers me is the tepid pacing of the picture, and the shameless calculation of the screenwriting, viewed directly in the character of Aisha, a nurse who treats Ferris for a possible case of rabies, stealing his heart in the process.
While performed with suitable flirtation by Farahani, the character is meant to soften Ferris and provide a dangling thread for the third act to swoop in and exploit. It's tough to find a purpose for Aisha beyond obvious romantic manipulations, and the subplot seems to elongate an already overstuffed motion picture (125 minutes). Aisha is emblematic of the film's attempt to follow structure within a plot that demands chaos, forcing Scott to usher in a mammoth suicide bombing, shoot-out, or torture sequence every 15 minutes to keep his audience awake.
The anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1 aspect ratio) image on "Lies" suffers from a faintly muddy transfer. Granted, Scott employs every post-production visual tool in the book, but the DVD presentation doesn't quite hold the clarity needed to stay invested in the story. Colors keep up the pace, but EE pops up now and again, and the black levels swallow detail.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital mix is a vigorous listening experience, with top-notch surround activity and nice low-end action sensitivity. Dialogue is easily understood, even through some of the more chaotic sequences, and cultural atmospherics deepen the auditory event. French and Spanish 5.1 tracks are available.
English for the Hearing Impaired, Spanish, and French subtitles are included.
"Lies" isn't insightful about the war on terror, tends to sermonize when backed into a corner, and indulges Crowe far too much as he clowns it up as the prototypical American military fatso who would sell his own mother to protect himself. "Lies" cannot be swallowed as a lesson on current events, it's not that profound. It's a movie with terrorism, not about terrorism, and the thinness of the film starts to increasingly irritate when Scott has to find a way to end the picture on a stable note. Even if the concept was fresh ("Traitor" danced a similar jig last summer), "Lies" remains an anesthetizing viewing experience.
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