Body of Lies

USA 2008

Film still for Body of Lies

Reviewed by Roger Clarke


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

Afghanistan, present day. CIA operative Roger Ferris uncovers information about a previously unknown Jordanian safe house for a large terrorist cell. CIA veteran Ed Hoffman, who oversees Ferris' activities from Washington using a hi-tech monitoring system, sends him to the Jordanian capital to investigate further.

Ferris makes contact with Hani Salaam, director of the Jordanian General Intelligence Services (GID). Hoffman's imperious actions soon begin to irritate Hani, and though he instinctively likes Ferris, he feels he can't trust him. For a while the two intelligence services cooperate in the infiltration of the cell and the hunt for a terrorist called Al-Saleem. When the infiltration collapses and the CIA compromises his operatives, Hani expels Ferris from Jordan.

Returning to Washington, Ferris proposes a scheme to flush Al-Saleem out from the shadows: he will concoct a fictional rival terrorist operator and will himself pose as a US businessman operating from Dubai. Ferris is allowed back to Jordan but his plan stalls when Al-Saleem kidnaps Aisha, a nurse with whom Ferris is romantically involved. Ferris hands himself over to the terrorists to save her. Taken to Syria, Ferris is tortured but is rescued in the nick of time by a Jordanian military operation sanctioned by Hani.


Hurried into production by Ridley Scott after the unpredicted success of American Gangster, Body of Lies is a feverish adaptation of the novel by Washington Post journalist David Ignatius. The story is mainly set in Jordan, and though Scott's visual dynamism is very much upfront from the beginning, the script by William Monahan (The Departed) is too often marred by clumsy expositions, weak dramatic constructions and a general lack of anything resembling emotional punch.

Leonardo DiCaprio, nervy and physical in Blood Diamond mode, plays it straight down the line as Roger Ferris, a keen-as-mustard CIA man-on-the-ground who grows increasingly frustrated with the organisation's inability to listen to operatives who know and understand the culture they're dealing with. Sent to Jordan to track down a terrorist mastermind called Al-Saleem, Ferris is a tough and resourceful character who believes in thinking his way out of difficult situations. He comes up with a plan to flush Al-Saleem out by setting up a fake rival terrorist operating on the same level.

Though Ferris falls for local girl Aisha simply to move the plot forward, Monahan fails again to provide any emotional resonance. As a romance this plotline seems forever poised on a scimitar's-edge of artifice, and Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani has a thankless task playing cipher to DiCaprio's hyperactive Arabist.

In one of his laziest performances to date, Russell Crowe is Washington CIA man Ed Hoffman, whom Scott depicts juggling bourgeois domestic life with the organising of lethal military strikes and black ops. The juxtapositions are crudely drawn and Crowe's take on this man, though occasionally amusing, is annoyingly opaque. Apart from the odd rant about the threat of an international caliphate, Crowe's determined underplaying of his character offers little clue to his soul or even, rather strangely, his motivations. Some backstory was sorely needed.

Despite the presence of two of the biggest stars in Hollywood, the one bright light here is provided by a relatively minor British actor, Mark Strong. He plays Jordanian intelligence chief Hani Salaam - all menace and attar-of-roses in his tailored Savile Row suits - with incredible delicacy.

This is not so much a film as a relentless helicopter sweep with a booming soundtrack. In some ways it's an odd kind of companion piece to the barmy Eagle Eye, another just-released war-on-terror hi-tech special. But unlike that film, Body of Lies is at least outward-looking and it's trying, through a veil of testosterone, to engage with real issues.


Directed by
Ridley Scott
Produced by
Ridley Scott
Donald De Line
William Monahan
Based on the novel by
David Ignatius
Director of Photography
Alexander Witt
Edited by
Pietro Scalia
Production Designer
Arthur Max
Marc Streitenfeld
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011