Spy Games: Body of Lies and Eagle Eye
Body of Lies has been adapted to the screen by William Monahan ( The Departed ) from a novel by journalist David Ignatius. It taps into themes and questions U.S. foreign policy in a manner similar to such recent films as Syriana, The Kingdom, Rendition , and Charlie Wilson's War. Body of Lies addresses terrorism and how to fight it. It opens with a terrorist attack in Manchester and then proceeds around the globe to reveal a network of both terrorists and U.S. agents trying to stop them. Roger Ferris (DiCaprio) is the man in the field for CIA operations in the Middle East, and he takes pride in knowing the culture, customs and language of the country he operates in. Overseeing him is Ed Hoffman (a bloated Russell Crowe), a senior CIA. agent who knows what he wants to do and isn't willing to take the time to listen to anyone else's opinions.
When Ferris gets a lead on a hard to track terrorist named Al-Saleem (Alon Abutbul), the two agents butt heads. Ferris believes he needs to work in cooperation with Hani (Mark Strong, imagine an Arab version of Andy Garcia), the head or Jordanian intelligence. But Hoffman's ego as much as the foreign policy he's asked to follow prevent him from entering into any kind of partnership with an Arab. Complicating matters is Ferris' interest in an Iranian nurse (the lovely Golshifteh Farahani).
Leonardo DiCaprio and Golshifteh Farahani in Body of Lies (Warner Brothers)
DiCaprio's Ferris comes across as a younger, more idealistic, and less abrasive version of Philip Seymour Hoffman's CIA agent in Charlie Wilson's War. Both characters seem to have a clear-eyed view of things on the ground but they unable to make their superiors listen to either reason or their experience. Body of Lies presents Hoffman as arrogant and power hungry as he lies and deceives with no thought to how his actions affect real lives. The film also throw in the ineffectiveness of technology in combating an enemy that has - on a certain level - gone low tech. Hoffman can track anyone using their cell phone and listen in to their conversations too. And he has no trouble finding Ferris in the middle of a dessert. But how do you use spy satellites to track people handing off notes written on pieces of paper? At one point, Hoffman is trying to follow Ferris as he's being handed off in a hostage exchange. But the terrorists arrive in four SUVs, drive around in circles to create a cloud of dust, place Ferris in one car and then drive off in four different directions. All the spy satellites and high tech gizmos are useless. Ferris understands this but Hoffman does not.
Filmmaker Ridley Scott could've taken a few lessons from Ferris as well. Scott's film is pumped up on Hollywood action testosterone as he orchestrates chases and explosions every ten minutes or so. But a little less flash and a little more grit could have gone a long way to making this film more convincing and less of an action flick. It would also help to not have DiCaprio's Ferris lecture the Muslim characters on the Koran.
Shia LeBeouf and Michele Monaghan in Eagle Eye (Dreamworks)
Body of Lies arrives on the heels of the decidedly more empty headed Eagle Eye , but both films show a U.S. government with an excess of technology. In Body of Lies that technology proves inadequate in fighting terrorism. In Eagle Eye , technology is turned against average citizens who are coerced by a computer (voiced by Julianne Moore) to commit an act of terrorism in the name of defending the Constitution. Wait that can't be right? Well it may not make sense but that is the basic plot. When the computer says "we," and LeBeouf's character asks who is "we," the computer replies, "We the People." The computer wants to enlist LeBoeuf and Michele Monaghan in a plot to assassinate the president and the whole chain of command. The computer quotes the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence as it tries to justify its actions. The film tries to point out the irony of a computer that's designed to protect the U.S. ending up placing it in jeopardy. Or as one character puts it, the safeguards we place to protect liberty can be threats. Eagle Eye , directed by Disturbia's D.J. Caruso, is as absurd as Live Free or Die Hard but it lacks that film's self-deprecating sense of humor.
Eagle Eye is also a paranoid thriller in which big brother is not only watching you but also manipulating your life as well. In Body of Lies , there's an even more callous sense of manipulation. Hoffman really doesn't see people as human beings with lives but rather as chess pieces to move around the global board. But both films reveal that the government is willing to go to almost any lengths at this point to fight terrorism - be it holding someone indefinitely because they might be a terrorist, committing torture, or fabricating lies that result in people getting killed.
Russell Crowe in Body of Lies (Warner Brothers)
In terms of acting and star power, Body of Lies wins hands down over Eagle Eye . I still can't fathom why Shia LeBeouf has become so popular. He's an annoying, overly mannered actor. In contrast, Crowe delivers an effectively sly but egotistical performance as Hoffman in Body of Lies . We know not to like him or trust him because he can't even tolerate his own kids. He's like a bull in a China shop and he wants to be respected and feared because of his brute strength. DiCaprio retools his performance from Blood Diamond to play Ferris. But he tries a little too hard to convince us of Ferris' good intentions and knowledge.
Body of Lies (R for strong violence including some torture, and for language throughout) is not Scott at his best ( Blade Runner ) but rather Scott on the Hollywood assembly line cranking out a decent mainstream product. But it's a far better action and spy film than the ridiculous Eagle Eye (PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, and for language).
Companion viewing: Charlie Wilson's War, Syriana, Rendition, The Kingdom, Winter Kills, The Parallax View