Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Spy vs Spy

Another one off the L.A. Library's shelves.

Body of Lies (2009)

Jack from Titanic and Gladiator team up in this spy thriller about the CIA’s hunt for an Osama bin Laden-type uber-terrorist named Al-Saleem. Leonardo DiCaprio is Ferris, the man on the ground in the hot spots of the Middle East. Russell Crowe is his boss, Hoffman, the man safely back in the U.S. with the cell phone earplug glued to his ear.

I was expecting something much like Syriana, a movie with great performances and a lot going on – perhaps TOO MUCH going on. But here director Ridley Scott and screenwriter William Monaghan narrow things down and we can follow along quite well, sort of like "Spy vs. Spy." Maybe they oversimplify the situation – is ANYTHING concerning the Middle East, especially with regard to Islamic fundamentalist terrorism THIS easy to follow? I did like the juxtaposition of many of the phone conversations between Ferris and Hoffman: Ferris is in the boiling heat of the Middle East, often in very dangerous locations and situations, while Hoffman is picking up his kids from school, attending one of their soccer games, or having a leisurely breakfast out on his massive home terrace.

I liked many of the performances, especially Leo as the field agent. He gets to speak Arabic, and run around Morocco (standing in for several Middle East countries) shooting guns. Gladiator is just okay here – he gained a bunch of weight to play the cushy CIA Ops Chief, but he really hasn’t made much of an acting impression since winning his Oscar. At least he hasn’t done his Catwoman movie, like former Oscar winner Halle “I should probably give this back now” Berry. A particular stand out is English actor Mark Strong as Hani, the head of the Jordanian secret service intelligence group. Strong’s Hani comes across as highly intelligent, calm, cool, and someone who would do whatever it takes to get the job done. Strong is set to appear in several upcoming 2009/2010 movies, including the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes, and should be a real breakout star.

The thing that depressed the heck out of me – like what about the Middle East isn’t depressing nowadays – is the way everyone uses someone else to get what they want. And they lie to each others faces. Hoffman lies to Hani (Hoffman’s justification for lying to Hani is that the Jordanian official is only concerned with his country while Hoffman has global concerns in mind). Ferris’ right hand man in Jordan lies to him. Hani lies to Ferris. Ferris lies to an Iranian nurse. And of course, Hoffman lies to Ferris, his own man! But when you lie to your own people and seriously put them at risk (and in this part of the world “at risk” means torture and mutilation, and that’s just for starters) how can you justify that? When does it end?

When you play "Spy vs. Spy" with your own people, doesn’t that hurt you more than it helps?

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