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:: Body of Lies

The CIA is watching you. No, seriously. America’s top intelligence agency has prying eyes everywhere. They know your every move; hear your every word; and will use your personal details to their advantage. At least that is to be believed according to Ridley Scott’s hi-tech, Middle East set, espionage thriller, Body of Lies.

Leonardo Di Caprio stars as undercover CIA operative Roger Ferris. Two things are clear after watching Di Caprio’s performance: he excels in playing conflicted characters under duress; and he has perfected the art of talking into a cell phone. He paces with it, cocks it to the side, and shouts obscenities through it like a second language. And he has every right to be angry. His character, Farris, has been languishing in the Middle East for several years, gathering intelligence for his handler, Ed Hoffman. Hoffman is played by frequent Scott collaborator Russell Crowe, complete with crew cut and “round” physique (which Crowe gained 27kg to achieve). If Crowe resembles a slimy toad, that is because his character is just that: slimy. While his best field agent juggles with treachery, torture, and death on a daily basis, Hoffman maneuvers his men like chess pieces from the comfort of his upper class, suburban dwelling.

And while Hoffman views the Middle East as the home of his enemies (and nothing more), Ferris has grown to love its culture and its people, save for those trying to kill him and blow up the western world. Number one on that list is the Osama Bin Laden esque Al-Saleem, played by Alan Abutbul. He has already orchestrated bombings is England and the Netherlands, and has his eyes set for even bigger destruction. As he preaches to his minions: “As we bleed, so they must bleed, until they are bled out”. In order to find Al-Saleem, Hoffman places Ferris in several Middle Eastern hot spots. Among them: Baghdad; Dubai; and Jordan, which is the focal setting in the movie (the film was shot in Morocco). Once there, Ferris is given complete control over ground operations, and in doing so involves the Jordanian secret service.

Enter Mark Strong as the elegant, yet lethal Head of Jordanian intelligence, Hani. Strong does a bang up job with his part, leaving an undeniable impression at the films conclusion, which is quite a feat considering the talent involved. Jordan also plays an important backdrop towards Farris’ personal life, falling in love with local nurse Aisha, played by Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani, who in real life has refused to return to Iran, citing fears for her safety.

Body of Lies is based on the novel by The Washington Post journalist David Ignatius, and was adapted by William Monahan, who worked with Scott previously o Kingdom of Heaven, and won an Oscar for The Departed. In fact, Body of Lies comes off as a cross between The Departed, and another political themed, international set Di Caprio vehicle, Blood Diamond. What it is not, is a fist thumping, finger pointing, post 9/11 political piece, which has turned off critics and viewers alike.

Rather, Body of Lies is an extremely well paced (courtesy of editor Pietro Scalia), tightly wound, and – on occasion – intensely violent thriller. There is no damnation or congratulations here. As Crowe muses as the films conclusion: “No one is innocent”