THE PENULTIMATE year of the Bush administration produced several Hollywood films which attempted to be critical of US foreign policy.
Autumn 2007 alone brought us Rendition and Lions for Lambs. More recently, last summer’s superhero yarn Iron Man contained several anti-US foreign policy one-liners, as does Quantum of Solace.
This month, following Oliver Stone’s portrait of George W Bush in W, Ridley Scott brings us Body of Lies, which takes US espionage in the Middle East as its subject.
Leonardo di Caprio stars as Roger Ferris, a bright CIA agent attempting to find information on a shadowy terrorist group in Iraq, and then in Jordan. Ferris speaks fluent Arabic and attempts to interact with the locals and understand their culture and customs.
Ferris reports to Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe ), a senior CIA official who co-ordinates Ferris’ activity in the Middle East from Washington DC. In contrast to Ferris, Hoffman is jaded and cynical, with the singular aim of acquiring information serving US interests by any means possible. When Ferris develops a working relationship with Hani Pasha (Mark Strong ), Jordan’s chief of security, Hoffman is sceptical and dismissive.
What could have been simply another cinematic attempt to portray the more dubious side of US involvement in the Middle East is elevated by di Caprio and Crowe’s excellent performances. Body of Lies is both a thriller and a character study of sorts, playing Hoffman’s cynicism off of Ferris’ relative idealism.
However, Body of Lies is less visually impressive than Scott’s previous films such as Blade Runner, Thelma and Louise, and last year’s American Gangster. Instead, the director seems to have attempted a more straightforward realist approach, eschewing the stylisation which characterises many of his earlier films.
Scott has produced cinematic displays of US militarism before, most effectively in Black Hawk Down, a portrayal of an attempted military rescue in Somalia which ended up as a bloody and prolonged battle. In contrast, his GI Jane was a crude attempt to illustrate the injustices endemic to military training. With Body of Lies he takes a middle ground, focusing on his characters rather than foregrounding visual spectacle.
As the inherently devious Hoffman, Crowe is perfectly, deceptively, laconic, his seeming nonchalance disguising an utter ruthlessness, embodied in an absolute lack of respect for government officials of any nation except the US.
Di Caprio remains on fine form as the increasingly troubled Ferris, who buries his unease under a façade of supreme competence. As Jordanian Hani Pasha, Mark Strong delivers a superb performance, characterised by a still watchfulness which usefully jars against Ferris’s overconfident bluster.
Body of Lies doesn’t bring anything new to what is becoming a subgenera of films apparently critical of recent US activity abroad. However, it is an entertaining and occasionally thought provoking spy story with three fine performances, and is worth seeing for those alone.