Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Mark Strong,
Golshifteh Farahani, Oscar Isaac. Rated R.
We’ve all known someone like Ed
Hoffman. He fancies himself five steps ahead of the game, even when he doesn’t
know the rules. He is cocksure and unwavering in his convictions. And more
often than not, he’s spectacularly wrong.
Hoffman, a Big Brother type who
oversees intelligence-finding missions in the Middle East from his cozy home in
the Washington suburbs, is determined to impose his will on a region he neither
knows nor understands, and it is his brand of ignorance and arrogance that
continues to undermine America’s war on terror. That at least seems to be the
damning conclusion of Ridley Scott’s captivating new thriller, Body of Lies.
Hoffman, whom Russell Crowe plays
as a slick, fast-talking powerbroker with a comically insatiable appetite and a
hefty gut to match, is the ultimate armchair quarterback, recklessly guiding
his underlings into harm’s way and shrugging off the body count with an air of
indifference. This is war, he reasons. Collateral damage is to be expected.
His star field operative, Roger
Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio), doesn’t share that cynicism. In a world populated
by mercenaries, jihadists and men of murky allegiances, he conducts himself
with the kind of honor and understanding that Hoffman deems frivolous. He
speaks Arabic. He trusts in his foreign-born allies and affords them the same
respect as his countrymen. And he doesn’t send innocent men to their deaths, if
he can help it.
Ferris is hardly an innocent – as
Hoffman observes, nobody is – but he is enough of an idealist that he tries to
distance himself from his boss’s boorish ineptitude and, by extension,
America’s miscalculations abroad. In his dealings with Hani Salaam (Mark
Strong), the shrewd, impeccably suave Jordanian intelligence chief who pledges
his support in the hunt for a terrorist ringleader, Ferris is as forthright as
his C.I.A. handlers will allow, and distinctly uncomfortable when called on to
lie. Deception kills, and weighs on his conscience more than he would care to
DiCaprio has played conflicted
undercover operatives before, most memorably in Martin Scorsese’s The
Departed. (William Monahan, who wrote The
Departed, adapted Body of Lies from the novel
by Washington Post columnist David
Ignatius.) In that film and this one, he is at his fiery best playing a
desperate man running on fumes and exposed nerves.
Body of Lies is a tense, deftly paced
meditation on America’s role in
the Middle East, and if it’s not quite a war movie, it offers somber insights
into the Bush administration’s campaign against terror that recent thrillers
like The Kingdom and Vantage Point have not.
Behind all the shattering acts of violence that
Scott stages so skillfully, the message is clear. We’re not winning this war,
and men like Ed Hoffman may be the reason why.