Thursday, October 16, 2008

I Liked It Better When It Was Called Syriana

There were times when I thought Body Of Lies would stand out as a superior thriller, the kind of movie like Three Days Of The Condor that gets talked about and studied decades later. There were a lot of promising moments like when you see Russell Crowe's character Ed Hoffman, a top level CIA official, running life and death missions half a world away as he calmly gets his kids ready for school. Unfortunately, too much of the film fails to live up to scenes like that making the good parts of the movie...wait for it...A BODY OF LIES.

The main character is Leonardo DiCaprio's Roger Ferris, a CIA field operative on the verge of a major burn-out who moves about through various parts of the Middle East trying to capture a Osama bin Laden type called Al-Saleem. Al-Saleem's organization is currently conducting a series of bombings all throughout Europe and Ferris gets a lead on him from one of Al-Saleem's operatives who has changed his mind about becoming a suicide bomber and wants to go to America. This is also where you meet Ed Hoffman, a man who is both Ferris's superior and a major league pain in Ferris's ass. As I said, Hoffman sits in Washington watching everything Ferris does from a high resolution spy satellite and often keeps information hidden from Ferris like that he's running his own side operation. He's also pretty close to being a sociopath which allows him to be cold enough to order Ferris to break his promise of asylum to the defector and instead use him to find a terrorist safe house. Ferris, on Hoffman's orders, personally executes him after that. We never find out why Hoffman is the way he is. As I said, he's the kind of guy who is literally capable of pleasantly enjoying drinking a tasty cup of coffee in his backyard while his wife and kids eat breakfast inside while, at the same time, casually order Ferris to shoot a man in the head. This was all in the first 20 minutes and it's pretty good stuff. If only the rest of the movie had been like that.

Ferris's investigation leads him to Amman, Jordan and to Hani (Mark Strong), the top man in Jordanian intelligence. Hani's a lot like Ed except that Hani doesn't have the luxury of observing terrorist actions from an air conditioned office in America. This is all real to him whereas Ed often behaves as if the people he orders and the events he plans are actions in a video game. Hani, though, claims to place a high value on trust and integrity and places only one condition of his working relationship with Roger Ferris: Ferris must never lie to him. This, of course, means that Ferris is going to lie to him. A lot. And yes, there will be harsh consequences.

After surviving a bombing, Ferris meets the prettiest woman in Jordan, an Iranian nurse named Aisha (Golshifteh Farahani). Not only does she live in a part of the world filled with religious fanatics who think that a Muslim woman dating a westerner would be grounds to kill that woman but he also refuses to fully explain what he does or why he was so badly bruised. Naturally, she sees no reason to refuse to date him.

What I described in the previous two paragraphs is part of why, after the first half hour, I re-categorized the movie from "Pretty Good" to "Near Miss". It moves from "Near Miss" to "WTF?" when Ferris comes up with the idea to create a fictitious terrorist organization whose success would be seen as an insult to Al-Saleem's vanity and draw him out of hiding. Believe it or not, this perfect plan actually fails in its objective and the movie actually finds ways to go downhill from there.

I'll be generous and move it back up to "Near Miss" based on the acting, especially Crowe, and Ridley Scott's competent direction but, if you want to see a better spy movie that has a far better handle on the world's fight against Middle East terrorism, you should see Syriana. Hell, Don't Mess With The Zohan probably had a better handle on the world's fight against Middle East terrorism.

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