Body of Lies
If there’s one thing that Ridley Scott is able to do, it’s make a movie that looks really, really good. Body of Lies is a well-paced, well-acted spooks-and-spies thriller, but without the whole Ridley look it would just be Syriana-lite. As it is, it still isn’t Syriana, but it’s close. The main issue for me was that it told a sprawling, multi-timezone, multi-national story, and took its sweet time in doing it. While normally I’d say this is a good thing, in this case it feels a little flabby around the middle, kind of like Russell Crow’s CIA character. This is a movie that would have benefited from about 15 minutes excised out of it, just to pick up the pace. And speaking of flabby, what is it with these movies that they need to have the tub-o’-lard spook running the show? In this case it’s Crow with an extra 40 lbs on him, in Syriana it was Clooney all gutted out.
The movie follows around Leonardo DiCaprio as a CIA field agent, going from Middle East hellhole to Middle East hellhole, trying to track down an Osama-type character who’s been blowing up café’s in small European countries (eg, you see the Netherlands get blowed up real good). This leads to some of the best scenes in the movie, with Leo running around trying to contain things as plan after plan goes to hell. One good scene was where he runs a guy down in an alley, then uses a move he learned from Bill the Butcher–“now that’s a kill.” One of the most interesting things that Scott does here is the use of the “Predator’s Eye View” camera, showing what the CIA is looking at back in Virginia. In fact, most of the interesting things that he does occur when the action gets throttled up to 11 and rockets and bullets start flying. If you recall what Kingdom of God looked like, that’s pretty much what you get here. Washed-out colors, high-speed film, high-contrast, and razor-sharp focus so that every pebble and every piece of shrapnel pops. It looks great. He does use other methods, more or less borrowed from Soderbergh’s bag of tricks in Traffic. For instance, pretty much every time you see Russell Crowe it’s at dawn, with a heavy blue caste. This use of blue filters carries through even when he’s indoors, or at his kids’ soccer game, or even meeting with Leo in Jordan. It’s like he carries a bag of ice around with him and chills the room.
Which leads me to the main issue I have with this movie. Russell Crowe makes some decisions with his portrayal of the CIA op that just got on my nerves. He has this move where he kind of slides his glasses down a little and stares at the other guy in the scene over the top of the frames. Fine, whatever. Except that he does it right before every freaking line he reads. It’s maddening. Also, like I said, Scott shoots his character with a blue tint which seems like he’s trying to show him as being the “cool” guy. At least, that was the impression I got; the script doesn’t hold that up. I like that they make him an ice-cold bastard when it comes to the people on the ground–other than DiCaprio’s character, he doesn’t give a shit if they live or die. But they needed to make it clearer that he was actually good at his job, and not a complete moron that screws up every job DiCaprio tries to run.
Leo is solid here, but he has his own weird acting tic. Every time he’s on the cell phone (and that’s pretty much every scene in the movie), he doesn’t just hold it like a normal person would, he has to hold it 6 inches in front of his face and scream into it. Very strange, and kind of distracting. Other than that, he’s fine. He has a real gift for accents; he swaps out about 3 of them throughout the movie, and makes them all convincing. I’d say he was better in Blood Diamond, but that’s nit picking.
I enjoyed the movie, but it dragged at the end. The torture scenes were pretty gruesome (basically, they show a couple post-ball-peen-hammer fingers), but skipped by in a hurry and don’t build up like the fingernail scene in Syriana. The intrigue scenes are pretty well done, with the plot twists making sense and nothing coming out of the blue. The action scenes are amazing, but you kind of expect that from one of the Scott brothers. Overall it’s a good movie, I think it just missed a little for me.