Last semester in IR class, that is international relations, we had a whole class dedicated to what CIA agents actually looked like. They are not handsome, suave people, with a good taste in women and drinks, who can handle any weapon by pure instinct; they are more like fat average guys behind a computer, revising and investigating all the data they can lay their hands on. Ridley Scott’s new action thriller is by no means an accurate representation of what the spy game of the real world is like; however it comes much closer than what any movie of its genre has ever been. Or, at least it convinced me that that is how the CIA and other intelligence agencies might actually work. I cannot say how it works, well because it is a spy game and like ninjas, you are not supposed to know they exist.
I do not want to spoil most of the plot, which is nicely filled with intricacies and neat twists. What you need to know is that Leonardo DiCaprio, plays Roger Ferris, a CIA operative who is trying to track down a terrorist in Amman, Jordan. Meanwhile safely back at home; Russell Crowe gives him instructions and orders through his hands-free phone. Crowe can keep an eye on DiCaprio because the CIA has satellites in space that work more or less like Google Earth to the nth power. Mark Strong plays the Jordanian General of Intelligence who trusts DiCaprio but dislikes the CIA. There is also a sweet love interest played by Iranian actress, Golshifteh Farahani.
Like most of Ridley Scotts movies, Body of Lies is superbly directed. Heavy use of close-ups gives us an intimate experience of the characters and we see their frustration in knowing how few they can trust. Like most modern spy thrillers, the camera seems to be shaky, not disgustingly shaky like in the Bourne movies, but shaky enough that it confuses the audience. Being a spy thriller, this is ok if you are not confused until the end - if you always know what's going on, then it is not much of a spy thriller. This is the fourth time Scott works with Crowe, and like always Crowe gives us a performance that makes us swear we are seeing the life and times of Russell Crowe (I mean that as a compliment). This time we do see the life and times of Russell Crowe, half of his scenes are amongst his family, taking the kids to soccer practice, living the good American life as his boy out there risks his life every second. DiCaprio has a tendency to overact, however this time it works. After seeing him in action in Blood Diamond , here we see him in territory that he seems familiar with and enjoys it. The true sweetness however comes from Strong’s character, Hani Salaam. Hani is one of those characters who you immediately like. He is so charismatic and dresses so well that you know there is dark side to him. Yet he seems to be the character with the highest sense of morality in the story. He reminds DiCaprio that in some parts of the world friendship and honesty can save your life.
What Ridley Scott attempted to tell in the film though is a bit unclear. Is this simply another spy thriller, or an attempt to criticize how the USA runs the world in a Big Brother kind of fashion? Russell Crowe’s über-Google Earth makes me want to say it’s the latter. It is scary how easily one can track you down if they wanted to, and how much we depend on technology and mass communication every day of our lives. I found it incredibly ingenious how Ridley Scott demonstrates that the hard thing about finding terrorists in the desert is that they live in almost a prehistoric fashion. If they don’t use a phone, how are you going to tap into their conversations? If they don’t store data in computers or write it down, how do you get information out if it?
If you are into spy thrillers, political thrillers, or into films about the world of today, Body of Lies is the film for you.