The Red Right Hand

Trust No One. Deceive Everyone

Ridley Scott

Leonardo DiCaprio
Russell Crowe
Mark Strong
Golshifteh Farahani

Body Of Lies is the adaptation of David Ignatius' novel, following the actions of CIA operative, Ferris [DiCaprio] and his Washington-based political puppeteer, Hoffman [Crowe] as they track down the leader of a terrorist organisation operating in Jordan. The film unfolds with a similar pace to Kingdom Of Heaven - similar political issues too - and slowly builds on its multilayered characters until events come to such a head that our lead opts to respectfully bow out of their chosen pursuits. The movie itself has a refreshingly engaging plot and story; provided you are willing to invest the time and necessary attention (I wouldn't be surprised if I get a host of emails claiming people couldn't understand what was going on - naturally, if I do, I'll read them out in my podcast; to shame you all!). It is more a thriller than many modern excuses weaselling into the genre; littered with numerous action sequences and ridiculous car chases (not to say they're not entertaining in their own subcategorised genre). In truth, this isn't a solution film nor a reflective piece; it's a character piece focusing on a CIA operative who has seen one-too-many colleagues die for a war he's sick of politicians interfering with. The problem is, everyone's so sick of the war that so few people want terrorist-based CIA thriller movies right now; apparently we want comedies like Burn After Reading and the upcoming Duplicity.

I haven't personally read the book this film is based on but a friend of mine has and she stated that the only real deviation from the novel is the omission of the central female characters, opting for Ferris to be single and the inclusion of love-interest nurse, Aisha [Farahani]. Having said that, I preferred Ferris' troubled divorce and instability with women - which seems like a believable occupational hazard. With this in mind there are four key faces: DiCaprio, Crowe, Farahani and Strong. Everyone else offers praiseworthy performances but they are merely there to support those in the foreground. Unlike most 'message pieces' (Lions For Lambs is a good example) there's not a lot of flashy 'look at me, I'm acting!' from the core actors; it appears they are simply trying to tell a story and produce the most realistic portrayal of their characters. On interviewing Mark Strong for RockNRolla, I casually remarked that he would be perfect for the role of Lucifer if they ever get round to making Paradise Lost. He laughed but said he saw what I was getting at (so, if I ever get my dream job of directing that one, you'll know who I would cast). The point of that little rant being with the character of Hani (head of the Jordanian secret police), audiences are shown a set of mannerisms usually reserved for (better) Bond villains: polite, charming and sophisticated yet ruthlessly terrifying. Russell Crowe's character also needs a mention, simply because he was integral to the plot but felt a little more like a side-note. Despite all the posters and campaigning that Crowe was one of the main character, he ended up producing little more than required of a supporting actor. Don't get me wrong, this isn't a bashing, simply an observation, I was engrossed by the New Zealander's performance (as I usually am) and have nothing but high praise for his scheming shit of a character.

**Spoiler time**
And finally, to address the film's finale. My initial reflection had me mumbling and internally arguing what it meant. Is it little more than a typically average spy thriller? Is it a lesson in trust and understanding cultural differences? Is it too cliché? Is it too conveniently wrapped up? Unlike other contemporary war pieces, content to indulge the torture-porn-happy of the audience, Scott shies away from the violence and when it eventually arrives there is a certain unsettling air of tension. We're not awaiting the gruesome mauling of the Saw/Hostel victims, this is a character who feels very real and as such, generates genuine concern within viewers. And yet for all its originality and despite shying away from many of the genre clichés the film still ends on a cavalry arrival. I'm still unsure how to deal with it but having thought long and hard I can genuinely say that I'm pleased Ferris didn't die at the end - read into that what you will. Besides, it's still better than the latest terrorist-orientated offerings such as Rendition and The Kingdom.

Release Date:
14th November 2008

The Scene To Look Out For:
The film's overall message resonates with a subtle clarity not often found in many others of this genre; not so much What happened? or When will it end? but simply How did we find ourselves here in the first place? Curiously, despite Body Of Lies' many memorable moments I found the opening quotation the most poignant. A great many films have opened on the quotes of others, comparing words said of one thing to the story they are trying to tell - but few have done it to the extent that the foreword lodged in my head long after the film was over. I'm not much of a poetry fan but I know what I like (usually limited to Milton, Owen, Thomas and Yeats) and this particular quote of Auden's has always struck a chord with me; so it was nice to see it. "I and the public know, what all schoolchildren learn, those to whom evil is done, do evil in return"

Notable Characters:
As stated, this is DiCaprio's film. He is the drive and the heart of the entire thing, selling every moment with an increasingly convincing conviction. Like most immature boys, I did my fair share of DiCaprio bashing in the late nineties (give me a break; I was a teenager and all the girls were swooning over him!) but he has proven on multiple occasions to be an exceptional artist of integral talent - words I do not cast lightly.

Highlighted Quote:
"You've got to decide which side of the cross you're on. I need nailers, not hangers"

In A Few Words:
"Gritty espionage thriller from a masterful director but I think the public will not fully appreciate or understand this release; it's Kingdom Of Heaven all over again"

Total Score:

Matthew Stogdon