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Tue October 7, 2008
Body of Lies
"The road to dusty death"
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
"When men no longer have the least fear of saying something untrue, they very soon have no fear whatsoever of doing something unjust." Theodor Haecker
When the shiny black SUVs roll into the scene and scowling sun-glassed men with ear cords scan the horizon, I know I'm in a heavy-duty Hollywood thriller colored by the mythic CIA. So it goes with Body of Lies, a middling' spy fest set in the dusty Middle East with swarthy operatives, darkly dangerous women, and nobody knowing when it all will end. The chaos of the engagements is mirrored by the discursiveness of the plot.
The difference, of course, in this film from others is its lead actors, Leonardo Di Caprio and Russell Crowe, both having worked together in The Quick and The Dead and both at that time young and parochial. As stars now they can guarantee a global picture making it to your screen, which might not have happened without their star power. For in the end, this is a garden-variety spy-thriller that doesn't have to make a whole lot of sense just as long as the villains are unkempt and Leo courts a gal. He is the operative in the dusty field dodging bullets and doling out murder as required. Romancing in this business can come to no good, and Leo has the right stuff to make it all authentic. Although his Blood Diamond hero was Oscar-nominated, he's no slouch in this role; he just lacks the dramatic material of Blood.
Not to slight Crowe as stateside CIA veteran Ed Hoffman, who does a credible imitation of his dumpy, fat, middle-aged cigarette exec blowing the whistle on the industry in Insider. Hoffman's casual suburban responsibilities juxtaposed with Ferris's in-the-field calamities are dramatically satisfying. Peering over his glasses is Crowe's signature evocation of the wise-old, ironic, hip guy. He does it well.
Body of Lies does well touring the cities of the Mid-East including Amman and Dubai (which has the most construction cranes in the world). But the cinematic travelogue detracts from the seriousness of the venture, where the Bourne series suborns the visual to the visceral.
Wealth and confusion seem to flourish amid the lies that tour the globe with the US. As for the incendiary topic of torture, it is treated as an everyday occurrence with one speech declaring its ineffectiveness. The film's unwillingness to go anywhere with the topic can be good or bad depending on your attitude toward realism and interpretation.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE 90.5's It's Movie Time, which can be heard streaming at http://publicbroadcasting.net/wcbe/ppr/index.shtml at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm and on demand anytime at http://www.publicbroadcasting.net/wcbe/arts.artsmain Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com