Body of Lies (2008)

Rated: R for strong violence including some torture, and for language throughout.
Length: 128 minutes
Grade: BFBC=B
Budget: $70 million
Box Office: $115 million (39 U.S., 76 Intl.)

Written by: William Monahan (The Departed, Kingdom of Heaven) based on the novel by David Ignatius.
Directed by: Ridley Scott (Seriously? American Gangster, Black Hawk Down, Gladiator, GI Jane, Thelma and Louise, Blade Runner, Alien)
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Mark Strong, and Golshifteh Farahani.

A CIA operative working on a major lead in the war against terror finds himself constantly at odds with his handler, befriends the chief of Jordan’s intelligence, and falls for a pretty Jordanian civilian.
Entertainment Value: B
Ridley Scott never bores. I found DiCaprio a bit hard to take seriously as the hard-driving tough-guy spook, but I suspended my disbelief long enough to enjoy the movie. Crowe, on the other hand, was fantastic. Some elements of the plot were predictable, perhaps deliberately so. Other parts were a bit far-fetched. But overall, it’s an enjoyable action spy movie.

Superficial Content: F
Drugs/Alcohol B, Sex/Nudity B, Violence F, Language F, Illegality F
Some wine and cigarette use. There’s no sexuality, but one scene of severe corporal punishment has a man naked from the side. The real issues here are violence (torture, brutal assault, more torture, gun violence, bombings, etc.) and profanity (constant and extreme).

Significant Content: B
On open society can’t effectively combat terror or conduct intelligence operations. American bureaucrats are stupid in the ways of the world, but Jordanians (representing the rest of the world) are wiser. Terrorism is evil, but fighting terrorism stupidly is also (slightly less) evil. Impatience and arrogance are the tragic American character flaws. “I and the public know what all schoolchildren learn. Those to whom evil is done do evil in return.” WH Auden. The movie opens with this quote, which is pretty obviously meant to tell us what the movie will demonstrate.

Artistic/Thought Value: C
In the end this is more of an action movie than a sermon, which is nice for a change. Nonetheless, the implications aren’t particularly well-hidden. Moreover, the movie can’t seem to make up its mind. It hates stupidity, which it wants to expose, presumably so we can change it, but it seems to think that secrecy is necessary for success in the war on terror, which would keep all such errors hidden in addition to the smart strategies.

Discussion Questions:
~What do you make of the fact that this movie earned almost double the US domestic box office overseas? Do you think the protection of free speech for exported movies could ever be curtailed when it constitutes bad US foreign policy or even an undermining of it?
~What is your personal perception/impression of the CIA and its agents? Can you think of a pro-CIA movie made in recent years? How do movies and television influence how we think about people to whom we have little or no person exposure?
~Is having an open society compatible with running successful intelligence operations? Should Americans want more or less disclosure from the CIA?
~All four major characters in this movie are plagued by pride. How is this used by other people in the film?
~The film keeps saying that no one is truly innocent, but by putting these words in the mouth of Ed Hoffman, is the film trying to discredit this rationalizing point of view?
~Why are Americans so impatient with matters of warfare and terrorism?
~Do you think the makers of this film feel at all embarrassed at how well things are going in Iraq today compared to when they started this movie?
~Trust and honesty mean everything to Hani, but Hoffman will lie to get done what he needs. Who is right?
~Why does Ferris make the choice he makes in the end?
Overall Grade: B
Decent. Ridley Scott can direct good movies. Who knew?

No comments: