Ridley Scott doesn’t care. Not really. The esteemed director is an undeniable stylist and consummate craftsman, but looking over his impressive filmography you’d be hard-pressed to figure out what the man believes. His movies are neither politically nor thematically ambitious, paying careful attention to the entertainment side of Hollywood.
Don’t take that wrong; there’s no sin in wanting to please your audience. Scott delivers, more often than not, with intelligence and panache, and even when tackling sophisticated material like Thelma and Louise or Blade Runner, his mostly surface approach actually softens the screenwriters’ pretensions.
So, it’s no surprise that despite its pedigree, Body of Lies only seems to be more than it is. Based on veteran journalist and Washington Post columnist David Ignatius’s 2007 novel about a CIA operative working in the Middle East, the film bounces with Bourne-like aplomb from Iraq to Jordan to England to Dubai, as Agent Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio) pursues a slippery terrorist leader. Lethal but earnest, Ferris is connected by satellites and surveillance to his guardian dark angel Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe), a gone-to-pot CIA manipulator who makes life-and-death decisions via cell phone during his kids’ soccer games.
Despite its timely political sheen, Scott’s movie is little more than a solid B-thriller. Complicated but tightly drawn, it does a good job of illustrating the paradoxes of asymmetrical warfare and the disconnection between those who call the shots and the fighters on the ground. Time and again, Hoffman’s actions drive home the point that American bureaucrats not only lack the finesse and subtlety to wage war against the enemy, but also refuse to understand their culture or motives. It’s a laudable critique of our current efforts in the Middle East, if only the movie didn’t emulate those very blind spots. Scott’s violence is gripping but sadistically impersonal, as one disposable brown-skinned character is traded for another. Some are killed, others are betrayed, and all seem to come from Muslim central casting.
— Jeff Meyers