If you'd believe the angle the trailers adopted for this movie, I guess you're more than likely to deem it an adversarial duel between DiCaprio and Crowe, with the latter being some armchair smarty-pants willing to risk it all to "save civilization" by betraying the former. Well thankfully, the story is a lot more than that, and being a clash of ideals, personality and tactics, while still working on and for the same side, makes this a much more gripping thriller to sit through.
We have Bourne, Bond and the occasional Spy Vs Spy type of movie, but Ridley Scott, in an adaptation of David Ignatius' novel of the same name, puts a very realistic spin on this, perhaps even too close in its unflinching take on the topical events on Terrorism, as is its treatment of the intelligence warfare game that that part of the world could be engaged in right now, where the truth is an invaluable commodity that can be traded, and half truths often passing off as facts, with lies just clouding and muddling everything up. While it does make the CIA look inept in the portrayal here, and puts the Jordanian intelligence service in much more competent light, you'd start to realize that anti-terrorism efforts do boil down to basic level human to human trust, cooperation and competence.
Russell Crowe stars as Ed Hoffman, the head honcho of a very high tech counter-terrorism department with plenty of fanciful monitors to view events unfold thousands of miles away, and with advanced weaponry to call upon at his disposal, with a penchant for running many simultaneous side operations privately. But of course being far away from the action, he very much relies on his best field agent Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio), young, energetic, smart and with the linguistic ability of Arabic, to feed him much needed intelligence from which to formulate his strategies. So we have an experienced, cunning management strategist, and a go-getter operations guy in what would be a dream-team pairing, if not for their fairly constant arguments because they each subscribe to different philosophies and approaches to the same problem. Which is to nab one highly wanted fictional terrorist who has faded off everyone's radar, because of the low-tech way how these terrorists operate.
Sitting through this well paced film, you do come to appreciate how different tactics work at different times, with the US style of blowing up everything without remorse or much deliberate thought, versus the Arab's way of measured sowing of seeds of infiltration. One you get instant results, but not much to follow up from, and the other the results come far later, but providing constant intelligence feed, and moles everywhere definitely helps. On one hand, we get Ed Hoffman who pretty much bulldozes everything in his path, while on the other as Ferris would have preferred, to have trust in their Arab counterparts for the convenient cultivation of allies, which Hoffman clearly frowns upon given his preference for dispatching staffers who are no longer useful.
With a number of similar genre films as The Kingdom, Syriana, Rendition and the likes, think of Body of Lies as all their good bits rolled into one, where the terrorists are indeed one ingenious bunch who think of simple tactics to thwart technology which they lack. You'll be left guessing and second guessing the intent of everyone in the film, and this amounts to putting yourself in the character's shoes, and allows you to play along as you decide whom you'd like to trust. However, there is a romance subplot thrown in which while crucial, I thought it distracted us a little from the main storyline of mole against mole and the devising and execution of a radical strategy, and of course for a movie to wrap everything up just after two hours, the ending might just be a little tad too convenient, and perhaps wishful thinking of everyone in the real world of course, to have problems solved with that little effort.
While Ridley Scott has collaborated with Russell Crowe for a number of films already – Gladiator, A Good Year, American Gangster and the upcoming Nottingham, here Crowe clearly takes a back seat, as hinted by the marquee on the poster which puts DiCaprio's name first. His character of Hoffman flits in and out of the film, being the unlikable strategist pulling strings over satellite pictures from Langley. Most times we see him as a family man trying to set things "right" over the phone, while being an inept father. But when it comes down to walking the talk, he's definitely a force to be reckoned with, and his vast experience in great contrast to DiCaprio's young upstart character of Ferris.
I thought DiCaprio is consciously moving away from his pretty boy romantic image by picking on more mature roles which require him to flex more of his acting chops, as seen with the likes of his roles in The Departed, The Aviator and even Blood Diamond. He clearly carries the film here on his shoulders, being given some of the best lines about the current situation in the movie, and some fine balance with action sequences. If anyone's growing from strength to strength from movie to movie, my vote will go to DiCaprio, hands down.
With an all round story which resonates viz-a-viz the real world, and commendable leads and supporting cast to pull this through, Ridley Scott delivers yet again a riveting tale that could rank high on my list as the top movies of the year. Highly recommended!