"Lies" abounds with grim truths about war on terror

Wed Oct 8, 2008 4:51am EDT
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'Body of Lies'

By Kirk Honeycutt

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - If Ridley Scott gave us a new kind of war movie with "Black Hawk Down," where an army unit functioning in total chaos in a hostile city became a collective protagonist, he now engineers a new kind of spy thriller in "Body of Lies," which opens Friday (October 10).

Here is a landscape of deserved paranoia and horrific violence, of countless life-or-death scenarios, total distrust of enemies and allies alike and open contempt for anything American -- again not undeserved. It may not be as much fun as old spy movies starring Cary Grant or more recent entertainments such as "Spy Game," directed by Ridley's brother Tony, but it feels all too accurate.

To be sure, the film retains familiar genre elements: It has double crosses and plot twists, a romance -- an improbable one -- chases, gunfights and last-minute rescues. But the fiction is rooted in a Middle Eastern reality that is always grim and unsettling. Stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe will certainly bring out their admirers to the Warner Bros. release, but how the action-thriller crowd will react to such a disturbing environment is a tough call.

William Monahan's tough-minded screenplay, based on a novel by journalist David Ignatius, who has covered the CIA and Middle East, sees no action or impulse as heroic. It acknowledges bravery, but this bravery is sometimes foolish and its goals often murky and counterproductive.

DiCaprio's Roger Ferris is the angry and often frantic man on the ground in the war on terror in Iraq and Jordan. Back in the U.S., Crowe's arrogant CIA veteran Ed Hoffman hovers over laptops and tracks ground movements half a world away via spy satellites. Hoffman, who would sacrifice his mother to single-handedly win the war on terror, easily earns Ferris' enmity, but Ferris needs his eyes and strategies.

In trying to flush a ruthless terrorist (Alon Aboutboul) out of hiding, the uneasy duo encounters a silky and charismatic head of Jordanian intelligence (British actor Mark Strong), an often bewildered local guide (Oscar Isaac), a computer whiz (Simon McBurney), a hapless pawn (Ali Suliman) and a nurse (Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani).

Ferris' tentative romance with the nurse is the film's most awkward device. Any relationship between a Muslim woman and American passing through Amman, Jordan, would be most unlikely in that society. Even so, the relationship is a naked stratagem to create a nearly fatal emotional attachment for the spy.   Continued...

<p>A scene from "Body of Lies". REUTERS/Warner Bros. Pictures/Handout</p>