Leonardo DiCaprio, sporting a fashionably scraggly beard and a decent Arabic fluency, hits the ground running in Body of Lies, and never really quits. A CIA agent unafraid of getting entangled in potentially lethal situations in the Middle East, DiCaprio gets hit upside the head (and everywhere else) along the way, to the point where the story is partly told through the topography of his scrapes and bruises.
Meanwhile, back at Langley, the paunchy Russell Crowe is ever-ready on his cell phone to coordinate and guide the actions of his man in a dangerous “field”: at the office, at his kid’s soccer game, or on his suburban lawn at 6 a.m. When Crowe’s character’s wife asks what he’s doing on the phone at that early hour, he replies, “Saving civilization, honey.”
Somewhere in the strange disparity between the man in the thick of it and the point person back home, tethered by phones and satellite imagery and tracking software, is the heart of Ridley Scott’s newest film. Without putting too blatant a point on it, the story calls attention to the time-honored tradition of the armchair general, pushing buttons (literal and emotional) while the man on the ground braves the battle. As part of a scheme to draw out the ¼ber-terrorist they seek, DiCaprio becomes part of a ruse to set up a lower level operative and inflame rivalry. Oh yes, and a chaste love interest bubbles up beneath the barely suppressed chaos.
Scott is no stranger to plunging us into harm’s way in a globally sensitive area, as in the study of tension in Mogadishu throughout Black Hawk Down. This time around, though, the pieces of the film don’t seem to mesh, and we end up with a strangely unaffecting, shadowboxing game of a movie. Although Lies ends up warbling and wobbling on its narrative path, and is hardly among the finest of Scott’s work, the film does serve an important function. By taking place in the Middle East, in both the line of fire and the streets of everyday life, the film draws our attention to a misunderstood, flashpoint part of the world in need of the attention cinema can bring.