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Monday, December 15, 2008

BODY OF LIES (2008) - Ridley Scott

Ridley Scott was once, and still is to some respect, one of the greatest directors working in the industry. In the seventies and eighties, he created some of cinema’s most iconic worlds and directed some classic films. They were few and far between, but when a Ridley Scott film arrived in the cinemas, people sat up and paid attention. However, in recent times, Scott’s output hasn’t really matched his earlier work. In between some pretty decent films (Black Hawk Down, American Gangster), Scott’s films just weren’t didn’t seem to live up to his status. The films became more frequent, but the quality was up and down. Body Of Lies, released this month unfortunately follows this trend.

Roger Ferris is a CIA agent stationed in Iraq. While on assignment, Ferris uncovers evidence linking terrorist leader Al-Saleem with a series of bombings in London. Ferris devises a plan to infiltrate Al-Saleem’s network using contacts under his superior Ed Hoffman, stationed in CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, and Jordanian Chief of Security, Hani Salaam. However, as Ferris gets drawn into the case, he finds his loyalties divided, and his life at risk. Things go from bad to worse as Ferris finds himself falling in love with Iranian nurse Aisha and his case puts her too at risk.

A thick and politically-charged plot, two stellar leads in Leonardo Di Caprio and Russell Crowe, and director Ridley Scott at the helm, Body Of Lies has all the elements for something great. So why does the film feel totally underwhelming? Firstly, Ridley Scott is a master of creating worlds. Alien and Blade Runner are so visually unique and have rarely been matched in terms of style and production. And yet, here in Body Of Lies, it feels like the Ridley Scott who created these worlds is nowhere to be seen. Sure, it’s a slick movie. But films with high production values and a talented director are always going to be slick. Comes with the freedom of cash. There’s nothing outstanding about the film and even the action scenes, which are few and far between aren’t that outstanding.

The performances are rock solid. You can’t really fault them. DiCaprio separates himself even more from the teen icon status he achieved with the truly awful Titanic. Despite his youthful looks, DiCaprio can pull badass off, and he does so here. Russell Crowe does that thing he does every so often to get into a different, non-butch role. He piles on weight. Fat Crowe is just as good as trim Crowe, so it baffles why he feels this is necessary. His Ed Hoffman is a pretty unlikable guy. And I suppose if Crowe feels the belly helped him get into this role, so be it. But the stand out performance is by Mark Strong as Hani Salaam. Strong’s been making quite a name for himself recently, and he excels here. His Salaam is slick and charismatic. But you know underneath his slick exterior brews a creature of real danger. We rarely see this side of him, but we don’t need to. Strong makes sure we know how dangerous a guy he is without needing to resort to stereotypical evil twitches.

The story in Body Of Lies is pretty intricate. There’s a lot going on, and plenty to keep your brain ticking over. Yet at the same time, it’s nothing outstanding. If you took out the stars, and took away Scott’s slick direction, it’d just be a pretty standard thriller. It just feels like an average film with really big names attached. And a huge let-down is the ending. The film seemed to be going in a bold direction, setting up something quite shocking. But at the last moment, it took a u-turn, letting what had just happened down and confusing plot elements that had taken place earlier in the film.

It’s not a terrible film, but I do feel Body Of Lies could have been a lot more. Take out the stars and there wouldn’t be much. Ridley Scott’s recent output hasn’t been groundbreaking, and this film certainly doesn’t buck the trend. Nothing terrible, but nothing particularly special either. Letter to Ridley Scott’s parents- Ridley must do better apply himself more.


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