GENRE: Geopolitical cloak-and-dagger thriller
THE PITCH: CIA operative Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio) criss-crosses the Middle East – especially Jordan – to expose Osama-like Islamist terrorist Al-Saleem (Alon Aboutboul), despite his American spymaster Ed Hoffman's (Russell Crowe) undermining tactics.
MONEY SHOTS: Plenty of fireworks in a desert shoot-out and car chase. An alarming, where'd-they-come-from dog attack scene. Neat-o spy plane shots from waaaay up in the air. A crisply edited montage of Ferris setting up a fake, rival terrorist network to flush out Al-Saleem. Ferris' final stare-down with Al-Saleem. Director Ridley Scott, as usual, delivers eye-catching, gritty locations and sprawling vistas.
BODY COUNT: Three huge bombings. About a dozen on-camera gun deaths. A particularly vicious stabbing death. A car gets blown up with a rocket launcher, and later, Ferris picks someone else's bone fragments out of his skin. A torture scene involves a hammer and some fingers.
BEST LINE: You'll never hear James Bond say, "I got bit by fuckin' diseased dogs, goddammit!" Nevertheless, Ferris' rabies shots lead to a wary romance with a half-Iranian doctor (Golshifteh Farahani), and a reasonably sensitive portrayal of cross-cultural courtship.
WORST LINE: "If you walk out on me, you're walking out on America," none-too-subtly says Hoffman, who pays more attention to political power games – and his own suburban family life – than to protecting Ferris' hard-earned intelligence network.
FASHION STATEMENTS: Jordan's slick head of intelligence (scene-stealing Mark Strong) wears impeccable suits and, at one point, a white turtle neck, putting him on the short list for Bond villains in 2010. By contrast, Hoffman's rumpled suits and untucked shirts (not to mention Crowe's additional poundage) suggest he's the embodiment of American neglect. Crowe's signature acting style here is to peer over Hoffman's glasses.
DOES IT BASH AMERICA? Sort of. Adapted from David Ignatius' novel by The Departed screenwriter William Monahan, Body of Lies raps U.S. intelligence for disrespecting its allied nations, and a character remarks "Welcome to Guantanamo" during a torture scene. Ferris' sympathies to Arab concerns suggests that the film really disdains the bureaucracy and politicking that hinders frontline soldiers in the War on Terror, like the kind of law-and-order film that bemoans the "red tape" the trips up cops on the street.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Like "24" set in the real world, Body of Lies features exciting counter-terrorism scenes, especially with Ferris' ingenious "sting" in the second hour. Neither Crowe nor DiCaprio seem ideally cast, however, and Ridley Scott, as usual, tends to make films that look more important than they actually are. Not unlike DiCaprio's Blood Diamond, Body of Lies sees the demands of the Hollywood action genre trump its passion for real-world issues.