Sunday, October 12, 2008
DiCaprio shines in "Body of Lies", an episodic spy caper (not quite like 007)
First of all, Warner Brothers got it right, proudly playing its Casablanca theme over an orange shot of its studios, and then following that with “Scott Free”, Ridley Scott’s company. This latest spy movie, "Body of Lies", as watched seems a bit episodic, like a TV series, with multiple locations and situations, yet there is a single unifying idea, or a body of ideas, from the novel by Davis Ignatius. Now, I don't mean "episodic" like a James Bond movie; perhaps I could say quixotic.
Leonardo DiCaprio is great as a grown man (all the more convincing with his global warming efforts – when will he be on Oprah?) and as CIA agent Roger Ferris he exudes quite a bit of charisma (as in “Blood Diamond”), even if the dyed hair looks a bit fake or silly. (Ferris is no "007"; he is a lot more human.) The central plot is his setting up a fake terrorist cell to smoke out the real one Al-Saleem (Alon Abutbul). Underneath this is his relationship with Jordanian security chief Hani (Mark Strong) and a pseudo-romance with a nurse Aisha (Golshifteh Farahani) who gives him his five shots in the stomach for rabies exposure (I had just seen Quarantine yesterday!, review here), all part of plan. The movie moves from the Iran-Iraq border to Washington, to Jordan, Dubai (to set up the ruse) and Turkey, and back to Jordan, and then Syria for the final confrontation with Saleem. The locations in the movie were often substituted: Morocco for a lot of the Mideast scenery, the Eastern Market in Washington DC (recovering from a fire in real life) to simulate terrorist explosions in Britain and Amsterdam. The Dubai scenes look real (I didn’t see the Burj), although I think an aerial shot of the artificial Palms could have been interesting. One of the most amazing shots is from far overhead in the desert, as Di Caprio walks alone, waiting for his deliberate trap.
There are a lot of interesting confrontations, as when Ferris fires the former chief in Jordan, or at the very end, when he turns down the CIA’s offer (from his boss, played by a pot-bellied and double-chinned Russell Crowe) with typical Ridley consequences. The “relationship” with the nurse is interesting but is subtle.
The political message in the story sequence is conventional and artificially clever. There is the usual rhetoric about how radical Islam wants to convert all infidels or kill them, and that a democracy can never really tolerate black ops. Then there is the life of the CIA agent, obviously a good person, but in divorce, enjoying his adventurous life as a young adult male too much to really put out for marriage (“Fireproof” style). (Jennifer Roback Morse and Maggie Gallagher will not approve.) The layers of deceit get expressed in the movie’s middle, with the fake cell, the Dubai contacts, and all the computer email hacking and reverse phishing.
I have a draft of a novel (too long at 140000 words) that I call “Brothers” (rather like Dean and Sam in "Supernatural") that duels a thirty-something “family man” CIA agent who lives a double life, working (like his wife) as a history teacher much of the time, who meets a gay college student overseas, who draws him into, not just a relationship, but a double plot where the government is trying (in its right-wing element) to conceal the arrival of aliens, which a shocking revelation of who the aliens are, while covering up a mysterious epidemic of schizophrenia-like dementia that seems to happen mainly at high altitudes or in areas with dangerous occupations (like mines). My CIA agent (who has a curious and manipulative boss comparable to Crowe’s character) doesn’t use weapons or assertive violence (or even control) until his own middle school son is kidnapped by the fibbies. I have the characters going on a final road trip to blast off as the world faces the end of life as we know it.
Maybe a good one for Scott Free?