Overly familiar material and turgid pacing do in "Body of Lies," yet another self-important cinematic entry dappling in the current affairs of the Middle East and their foreign relations with America. Director Ridley Scott continues his losing streak here (for my money, he hasn't made a good film since 2001's "Black Hawk Down
"), displaying a rote, by-the-numbers filmmaking sensibility that his more creative brother, Tony Scott (2006's "Déjà Vu
," 2005's "Domino
"), consistently shows up.
Leonardo DiCaprio (2006's "Blood Diamond
") can do no wrong acting-wise, but his recent résumé is starting to look like the motion picture equivalent of "Meet the Press." It wouldn't hurt him to do something where he gets a chance to smile once in a while. DiCaprio plays Roger Ferris, a CIA operative who goes undercover in Jordan to capture Al-Saleem (Alon Aboutboul), a terrorist leader responsible for hundreds of bombing deaths. Instructed by boss Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe), Roger forms a rocky alliance with Hani Salaam (Mark Strong), the head of Jordanian covert operations, and narrows in on a Dubaian architect, Omar Sadiki (Ali Suliman), whom he falsely sets up as a Jihadist as a means of luring Al-Saleem out of hiding.
Based on the 2007 novel by David Ignatius, "Body of Lies" shares quite a number of similarities with the recent Don Cheadle thriller, "Traitor
." This doesn't really come as a surprise, though, since the plot is so derivative. If one gets the sense while watching "Body of Lies" that he or she has seen it all before, it's because there isn't one original element in the screenplay by William Monaghan (2006's "The Departed
"). The film's message, or point, is astoundingly juvenilethe Middle East is a screwed-up placeand Roger's moral quandary over putting an innocent man's life at risk for the sake of locating Al-Saleem is mostly treated as an afterthought.
A lack of engagement with the characters additionally puts a crimp in investing in the story. Roger Ferris isn't the warmest or most developed of protagoniststhe only times he gets a chance to escape the business at hand is in his delicate romance with nurse Aisha (Golshifteh Farahani)while Ed Hoffman is portrayed as an aloof figure going through the motions of being a dad and barely getting out of his robe long enough to leave his cozy lakeside house. Russell Crowe (2007's "American Gangster
") gets his name above the title, but has so little to do one assumes he only took the job out of his faithfulness to director Ridley Scott. With a cell up to his ear for the bulk of his limited screentime, Crowe literally phones in his performance. He's so much better than this. In her first English-language role, Golshifteh Farahani lights up her scenes with a gentle, disarming sweetness as Aisha. Her subplot with Roger only merges with the central storyline near the end, but it is easily the most genuine and human portion of the film.
After ninety minutes of spinning its wheels, "Body of Lies" finally builds to some actual intrigue in the third act. With the stakes raised and multiple lives in danger, the movie picks up momentum and leads to a graphic torture sequence sure to have viewers wincing in their seats. And then, just like that, the cursory good will dissipates in a condescendingly convenient development that reminds of the misbegotten ending to Demi Moore's 1995 adaptation of "The Scarlet Letter." Granted, no Indians swoop in to save the day, but they might as well have. "Body of Lies" might deal in timely subject matter, but so many like-minded films have beat it to the punch that there's nothing new to offer audiences. The talents of all involved have been wasted, and so has our time.