Heart of the matter
Body of Lies hits on a controversial topic—the war on terror—in a powerful way
The war on terror has graced the big screen frequently over the past year. Some films (In the Valley of Elah, Stop-Loss) have been more thoughtful than others (The Kingdom), but what most have in common is an almost total lack of viewer attention.
Perhaps Body of Lies will change all that with Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe starring and Ridley Scott at the helm. An emotional, engrossing film, it still offers a tough pill to swallow, however.
Roger Ferris (DiCaprio) is a CIA agent based in the Middle East whose job is to collect intel on possible terrorist cells and, ultimately, the location of a man responsible for a number of bombings. Ed Hoffman (Crowe) is Ferris’ superior in the United States.
The film opens with Hoffman talking via cell phone to Ferris, who is in Iraq, from his comfortable home in Virginia. The disconnect is immediately obvious, though conversations between Hoffman and other colleagues in the United States suggest he understands the situation Ferris is in.
Ferris, who speaks fluent Arabic, works with local intelligence agents to track down al-Qaida members and safe houses. Most of the film takes place in Jordan, though he also visits Syria and the United Arab Emirates.
As can be deduced from the title of the film, lies play a big part in the plot, both between Ferris and Hoffman and between them and the rest of the characters, mainly Arabs. As one example, Hani Salaam (Mark Strong) is a Jordanian intelligence officer who explains upon meeting Ferris that he has but one rule: “Don’t lie to me.”
Leading Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani also plays a supporting role as a nurse and friend of Ferris. The film, and the fact that she appeared on the red carpet without her head scarf, have caused controversy in Iran, and the actress may not even be allowed back into her home country.
The film’s subject matter—based on a novel by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius—is controversial, as it looks harshly at the motivations and the moral codes of those involved in the war on terror. And despite a few forced moments, the storyline is so enthralling, and the settings and characters so realistic that it’s almost as though you’re transported to a different world for two hours. The acting, from everyone involved (but in particular from DiCaprio) is superior, and the violence all feels necessary, rather than sensationalized for dramatic effect.
Body of Lies is hard to swallow, but it gets to the heart of a matter that most of us here in the United States are far removed from. It might not change any minds about the war, but the film could certainly open people’s eyes to some of the complexities of the issues.