Ridley Scott's latest is a very different kind of war movie. Where Waltz With Bashir is honourably self-questioning, Body of Lies is dimly self-important.
This is Scott's reading of the "war on terror", as conducted by two rivalrous CIA spooks. An Islamist bomb rocks inner-city Manchester, and agent Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio) is dispatched to Jordan to smoke out the al-Qa'ida leader who's behind the campaign. While he's risking life and limb in the field, his complacent boss Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe) sends directives from home, laying down a smokescreen of disinformation and blithely condoning the sacrifice of contacts and informers.
Body of Lies:
Its first hour is packed with dull CIA procedure: Crowe, paunchy and pawky, phone-piece at his ear, looks more like the manager of a call-centre than a master of the dark arts. The film wants to take a lofty view of his get-the-job-done callousness, but instead makes him look like the only realist in town.
DiCaprio, bearded and gimlet-eyed, plays an arrogant little turd who at first makes himself so difficult to like that you wonder if the screenwriter William Monahan (The Departed) is planning some savage comeuppance. But the screenplay, driving a wedge between the two protagonists, becomes a battleground between Hoffman's amoral pragmatism and Ferris's burgeoning conscience. The former thinks that lying to everyone is the safest method; the latter realises that people, innocent people, will die because of those lies – one such being the Iranian nurse (Golshifteh Farahani) he falls for.
The film has a situation, but no plot. Scott is far more interested in visual possibilities than dramatic complexities – shots of light through slatted blinds make their regular appearance, and there's a clever one of a dust storm whipped up by four SUVs to bamboozle the CIA's spy satellite. Mark Strong lends a silken menace to the part of a Jordanian intelligence chief, and offers more charisma than DiCaprio and Crowe combined. But it's something of a penance to sit through, a token handwringing over American dirty tricks that's just another opportunity for Scott and co to blow stuff up.