Ridley Scott's Body of Lies follows the increasingly complex machinations of CIA agent Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio), who begins the film as a field agent in the Middle East attempting to secure information that would stop upcoming terrorist attacks. Ferris maintains regular phone contact with his boss Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe), a CIA bigwig -- forever on his cell phone -- dispensing directives while attending to domestic duties like kiddie soccer games. After a promotion, Ferris becomes the Agency's number one man in Jordan, quickly earning the trust of Jordanian intelligence official Hani (Mark Strong in a scene-stealing performance) -- a relationship that Hoffman compromises in an attempt to catch one of the world's most feared terrorists.
All of these characters come to life thanks to William Monahan's airtight adaptation of David Ignatious' novel, and the uniformly excellent performances. In addition to serving up some deliciously funny one-liners, Monahan employs a simple step-by-step construction in order to tell this remarkably complicated espionage tale -- a story chock-full of divided loyalties and paranoia. The audience always knows exactly as much as Ferris does, a fact that keeps his motivations -- and therefore the entire plot -- clear. As for the actors, DiCaprio is, in no uncertain terms, a movie star; and this is a star turn. He's certainly credible as an action hero, but he also communicates intelligence, fear, and an inherent morality in the scenes between the big explosions. This accomplishment makes the chases and gunfights all the more entertaining because we actually care about the person whose life is constantly at risk. Crowe complements DiCaprio as the Aussie's strong physical presence plays off DiCaprio's inherent softness (no matter how much time he spends in the weight room, Leo will always be a baby face).
Ridley Scott's movies have always betrayed his formative years in advertising; his films always offer loads of surface pleasure, but they rarely have strong ideas. The crisply photographed and edited Body of Lies reveals some ambition, for while it certainly works as pure entertainment, this tale of a good man trying to extract himself from an impossible situation offers some commentary on America's feelings about being in Iraq. Fortunately, Scott never hammers this point home, and the result isn't a lecture about American foreign policy, but a smartly updated old-fashioned espionage thriller.