The latest high-profile entry in the dead-on-its-feet post-9/11 thriller genre, Ridley Scott’s Body of Lies is certainly not the worst of its kind, but it somehow did end up one of the more embarrassing commercial failures – in spite of the top-heavy casting of Leo DiCaprio alongside Russell Crowe. Whether its underperformance at the US box office was caused by its (appropriately) ambiguous plot or by its ‘been there, done that’ similarities to lesser pictures like Syriana and Rendition, it seems to be faring comparatively well in European cinemas.
But whatever the reasons for its commercial rewards (or lack thereof), the film certainly has a redundant quality to it that somehow succeeds in forfeiting its many obvious qualities (not least of which is the too-beautiful-for-belief Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani as the tacked-on romantic interest). Seemingly struggling to offer an exposé of the human aspect of America’s War on Terror, it ultimately implies little more than that the US intelligence agencies are fatally compromised in their disregard for actual human lives, and that local authorities may be better suited for managing this fight (see also: A Mighty Heart).
The film may be hampered by a convoluted, strikingly uneven plot, but it sets itself apart from most previous films to which it has invited comparison by ultimately emasculating its hero instead of offering him his expected climax of moral awakening (cf. Rendition) and/or cleansing violence (cf. The Kingdom). “Walk out that door, and you’re turning your back on America,” says Russell Crowe’s boringly immoral handler as DiCaprio opts for Middle-Eastern romance over American bureaucracy. Perhaps that sentiment still echoes the American moviegoer’s feelings too much for comfort.