Clint sees a Body of Lies

Clint here. I knew “Body of Lies” would have to be good – Crowe, Di Caprio are in it for starters. The question is, how good? Funnily enough, that’s the same question I’ve asked myself walking into most of Ridley Scott’s most recent pics.

So what’s it gonna be Ridley – the popcorn thriller or the distinguished and factual dramatic piece? It’s time to decide. What you’ve been serving up lately resemble nothing more than entertaining but misdirected half-finished movies. And we know why. And it’s time to stop.

I enjoy Ridley Scott’s movies – “Alien” is an atmospheric sci-fi masterpiece, “Thelma & Louise” is a surprisingly moving tale of friendship that makes you question your own friendships, “Gladiator” is a bravura period-action pic that, in a commercial-sense, entertains from go to whoa, whilst “American Gangster” gave Denzel Washington one of his best roles in years – but he really needs to scribble down a new mission statement for himself, describing to us what business he’s in.

Ya see, around the same time Scott started working with Russell Crowe – who he now essentially casts in all his movies – his approach to filmmaking changed. With the release of the swords and sandals epic “Gladiator” Scott seemingly came to the conclusion that he could have it all – he could win acclaim, snag awards, and pack multiplexes out at the same time. It’s not often that a commercial film attracts the interests of both the public and the Oscar voting committee – they’re usually two separate entities – but Scott did it. And he’s been trying to replicate the formula ever since. And boy have we been left burnt by his experiments.

Like his helicopter/war/adventure/drama/thriller “Black Hawk Down”, “Body of Lies” is two films – the one Ridley wants to make (the serious political drama with messages up the wazoo) and the film Ridley thinks the audience wants to see – what he believes he has to do to entice the normal joe into the film (the popcorn thriller). What we have is a slightly uneasy mesh of two film types. If the transition wasn’t so noticeable, and if both of those films had delivered a little more on their own, it might’ve worked – I guess in some respects “Alien” was a bit of both – but it doesn’t. Well, not on the whole anyway.

“Black Hawk Down” started out as a movie with a message, with some interesting and true soldier stories in tow, but quickly turned into a flashy war movie – the likes of which you usually see from Michael Bay or even Scott’s brother, Tony. Suddenly the motivations of the characters were placed second to the slickly shot action sequences, trailer-worthy bursts of dialogue and energetic gun battles – and we stopped giving a shit. “Body of Lies” is a little like that too – it has a really interesting and topical premise, one that’s very valid today, but instead of seeing it out it does a complete 360 and instead transforms into a cheesy sweat-inducing popcorn-munching thrill-ride that only Nicolas Cage would like at home in. It’s like turning up to the cinema to see “Syriana” and having the projectionist actually put the reels for Roger Donaldson’s cheesy “The Recruit” on half-way through. You notice this change about as much as you’d notice that. One’s attention is suddenly turned from these interesting characters that Scott has set up to, well, whatever explosion is about to rock the screen. And it’s a pity- because like “Black Hawk Dawn”, there’s an interesting film trying to get out from underneath the foam nonsense.

Penned by William Monahan (“Kingdom of Heaven”, the, er, upcoming “Jurassic Park IV”), “Lies” is set in a post-911 world where a globetrotting CIA operative, Roger Ferris (Leonardo Di Caprio), uncovers a lead on a major terrorist leader suspected to be operating out of Jordan.

Back home, Ferris’s bureau contact is seasoned CIA officer Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe), a burly, arrogant and rather unsympathetic character whose not so worried about the innocent people that get killed along the way as long as the job gets done.

Hoffman also doesn’t seem too concerned about his colleague, Ferris, constantly putting him in the line-of-fire and regularly going behind his back – ultimately threatening some of the relationships that Ferris has set up himself, and, making him a target.

“Body of Lies” isn’t a bad movie – in fact, there’s a lot to like about it; the performances are terrific, the cinematography is beautiful, and the storyline, though a bit all-over-the-place and seen-it-all-before is engaging enough to hold your attention – it just needed someone to wipe its lens so it’d have more of a clear focus.