The American Thriller Body of Lies is just that — American. Ridley Scott, director of Blade Runner, and the Boston-Based screenwriter William Monohan (think The Departed) are the masterminds behind this ‘08… masterpiece.
It is certainly a… movie.
Russel Crowe, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Oscar Isaac are working for Central Intelligence Agency to bring to light a suicide bombing operation that is taking place in Jordan at the time. Painted as this altruistic hero of a man, DiCaprio, mid-divorce, must reckon with the bombers overseas with the help of his partner (in crime? Justice?) Ed Hoffman (Crowe). It has all of the promised delivery of any American Thriller. A predictable storyline is dependent on lots of hiding from the bad guys, falling in love while on a mission, lovers being held hostage, and lots and lots of vengeance.
What this film seems to be most notorious for that sets it apart from a majority of American thrillers, though certainly not enough, is its constant pull towards white saviorism. Oscar Issac, who plays Bassam, is DiCaprio’s only non-white partner in the whole mission, and you guessed it — he gets killed off within minutes. DiCaprio gets over it pretty quickly, too. His love interest? His hot nurse that he conveniently must visit once a week for his rabies shot after getting attacked by a set of wild dogs.
I may just not be thoroughly impressed by most action films, but easily-blown plot twists aside, I had several other issues with this film. DiCaprio’s character, Ferris, has no problem killing a few local undercover flies on the wall for the CIA when they are at risk of blowing his cover and uses every chance he’s got to protect his own image. Not to mention, there is little to no humanization of the antagonists in the film. This isn’t surprising, though, considering this is a film based in the Middle East, directed and written by several white men in America. Ferris (DiCaprio) said it best when he said,
“I am [thinking straight] alright, you’re not, because you’re a million fucking miles away. I’m here, Ed, every day and I see the unnecessary travesties of this war that you political fucking bureaucrats only look at pictures of!”
A nice, redeeming sentiment… except for the fact that it applies so distractingly well to the film’s producers. Ed Hoffman’s role in the film, an absent overseer to Ferris’ mission in the field in Jordan, is paralleled by his absent parenting of his son. In an admittedly hilarious scene in the first act of the film, Hoffman is arguing on the phone with Ferris while ushering his sleepy son into the bathroom and teaching him to direct his stream into the toilet. The writing here is pretty hilarious, and perhaps even metaphorical of American involvement in foreign affairs, as only Ferris really understands what is going on overseas, but I’m not sure I’m ready to give the film that much credit.
Rolling Stone, however, claims that Body of Lies, particularly Ed Hoffman, “is the moral rot behind the facade of Uncle Sam waving the flag of homeland security”.
Due to some speculation about the film’s political plot, the film, set in Jordan, was instead filmed in Morocco, which should tell you a lot about how I assume Jordanians would have taken the film. Perhaps this has something to do with Hoffman’s description of the bombers as their “allegedly unsophisticated enemy” who has realized that America is an “easy target”. Hmmm… I don’t know if it’s fair game to paint the United States as victims in this one.
It may have been naive for me to assume that Ferris’ love interest, Aisha, Golshifteh Farahani, would have been the turning point for Ferris story arc, the one thing that stops him from blinding following orders. I will admit that the end of the film is rather redeeming, with Ferris choosing to leave the CIA and remain in Jordan with Aisha. Ferris’ romantic subplot really did nothing for the film other than to give him a reason to leave the force, but that’s another story.
I appreciated what this film was trying to hint at about the international affairs of the US government, but I only wish that the writers had bolstered their claims by giving more life, personality, and humanization to the Middle Easterners they were trying to portray. For that, I give this film a 6/10, which is pretty similar to its Rotten Tomatoes rating of 55%. My justification for this is because at face value, the average American viewer would probably feel more pity for DiCaprio’s character who had his boots on the ground than they would for the Jordanians. Isn’t that how it always goes?