On the Aisle

On the Aisle
Film review by Tony Macklin
Body of Lies
Battle of the Cell Phones
A lackluster film and lackluster Crowe
When Russell Crowe gives a lackluster performance, you know how meager a year it’s been at the movies. In “Body of Lies,” Crowe is bogged down in a thankless role in a thankless movie.
“Body of Lies” is the story of a well-traveled, young, CIA agent Roger Ferris (Leonardo DeCaprio) who is trying to catch a terrorist leader somewhere in the Middle East. His orders come from his boss Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe), in the USA. Ferris is on the run in foreign lands; Hoffman is on the cell phone in the suburbs.
Hoffman is detached from the action and believes that the end justifies the means. Ferris isn’t sure. Their different experiences drive them to different ends. But, unfortunately, who cares? One wonders what is the point of “Body of Lies?” We’ve seen most of it many times before.
I think it’s about time to stop giving director Ridley Scott a pass. He is a stylist, the visuals are effective, but he has forgotten what makes drama.
In last year’s “American Gangster,” Scott didn’t bring his two adversaries (played by Denzel and Crowe) together until the end of the film. In “Body of Lies,” there are a few encounters between Crowe and De Caprio, but Scott doesn’t take full advantage of their animus. He seems to have forgotten that characters going face to face is dramatic. “Body of Lies” becomes the battle of the cell phones.
If Scott were to remake his “Thelma and Louise” (1991), he probably would have Thelma and Louise in separate cars.
Crowe’s performance in “Body of Lies,” as the veteran government maven, is like a commercial for cell phones. See Russell multi-task. See Russell take his little boy to the bathroom while alking on the cell phone; see Russell in the car with his daughter while talking on a cell phone; see Russell by the pool in his suburban neigborhood while talking on his cell; see Russell at a kids’ soccer game while talking on the cell phone. See Russell try to out act a cell phone.
Ed Hoffman (Crowe) is constantly talking with his best agent or to his spy satellite people as we see barren foreign land, so we get the idea that the suburbs of America and the Arab lands are a bit different. To further emphasize that there might be cultural difference, Crowe plays someone who is overweight, sloppy in dress, and totally without sympathy or loyalty to any one but himself. He is the Ugly American Cell Phoner.
Ridley Scott asked Crowe to gain 50 pounds for his role I guess to allow more Americans to relate to him. But this is no Robert De Niro in “Raging Bull;” it is Ridley’s Bull.
One of Russell Crowe’s great strengths as an actor is his ability to portray the noble spirit of his characters. Maximus in “Gladiator” (2000), Jeffrey Wigand in “The Insider” (1999), Jim Braddock in “Cinderella Man” (2005), and even  Ben Wade in “3:10 to Yuma.”
But Scott who directed Crowe in “Gladiator” discarded his actor’s strength. He burdens Crowe with Ed Hoffman, who has no nobility of spirit. He has no spirit. It’s a role fit for the late character actor J.T. Walsh, not Russell Crowe.
Leonardo De Caprio is the boy king of acting. He is likable, youthful, and energetic. But De Caprio has little ability to suggest motivation in his characters. We can fill in the blanks when he portrays Howard Hughes (“The Aviator,” 2004), and Scorsese surrounds him with action and great actors in “Gangs of New York” (2002) and “The Departed” (2006). But the script of “Body of Lies” by William Monahan doesn’t help De Caprio find credible motivation.
In “Body of Lies” Roger Ferris is supposed to have a moment of truth, or several moments. Instead, Monahan (from a novel by David Ignatius) slaps in a contrived romance with an Arab nurse (another likable performer, Golshifteh Farahani), which leads Ferris to an absurd act, which goes against his character. A contrived romance leads to a more contrived climax. There is no basis for how Ferris suddenly spits the bit and goes off on an irrational venture. The ending is downright silly.
Ironically British actor Mark Strong as the urbane head of Pakistani Intelligence steals the scenes he’s in. When he appears the film is interesting. There are two other very good scenes. One is a clever maneuver in the desert when the terrorists raise sand and confuse the eye in the sky. The most engaging scene is when Ferris meets the nurse’s sister and her two boys. The kids inject a little bit of humanity and natural ease in a movie that otherwise lacks both.
But most of all “Body of Lies” is explosions, chases, deception, and infamy. It’s a film without heart. Ferris tries to grow a conscience. Events bring it to a head.
But in “Body of Lies,” it’s a fat head talking on a cell phone.

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