One of the 80 billion unforeseen consequences of 9/11 has, in recent years, proven to be Hollywood's fascination with, confusion about, and desire to cash in on America's fucked-up relationship with the Middle East. There are the obvious films (Paul Greengrass' United 93), the schlocky ones (Peter Berg's The Kingdom), the earnest ones (Traitor), and the good one (Syriana). And then there's Body of Lies, the new Ridley Scott action drama.
Body of Lies stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe, and it's set among the terror threats and deeds of radical Muslims. But while Lies feels more authentic and nuanced than most big-budget action flicks—it points out, for example, that fighting terrorism is probably necessary, and in the same breath, adds that it's also an undoubtedly futile fight—at the film's core, it still doesn't do much more than use the tumultuous Middle East as a backdrop for the sort of hammy spy thriller that Tom Clancy might write on a good day. By the final third of the film—when a terrorist pulverizes a captured American's fingers with a hammer and says, "This is Guantánamo!"—the film's more or less a lost cause, though I guess it deserves some brownie points for trying.
DiCaprio plays Roger Ferris, a CIA operative with a ridiculous little beard, and Crowe plays Ed Hoffman, a CIA analyst with 30 or 40 extra pounds. There are crosses and double crosses and urgent close-ups of computer screens and a requisite love interest and a lot of explosions, and since it's a Ridley Scott picture, the whole thing's solidly put together and looks absolutely gorgeous. But by the time the film enters its midpoint, there's little to care about. DiCaprio and Crowe are predictably good, and Scott's adept, brutal action sequences ramp up impressively, but one senses that these filmmakers—like many before them—just aren't sure what else to do with this clusterfuck of politics and blood and religion. Hollywood's figured out that terrorist safehouses make great spots to have gunfights in, but apparently, that's about all they have to offer.