The plot sounds kind of silly on paper, but for a large portion of the film, it doesn’t feel that way. Director Ridley Scott is a talented guy, and the facade he provides Body of Lies is almost convincing enough to cover up the fact that the emperor is not wearing any clothes. His locations are immensely convincing and realistic; the attention to detail is quite impressive. The dialogue also goes a long way towards selling things. These are literate characters who sound like they know precisely what they’re talking about. However, these scenes reflected another element that Burn After Reading pointed out: in this sort of film, characters are frequently saying things that seem reasonable on the surface… but the more you actually think about what they are saying, the more you realize just how absurd it all is.
Setting aside the fact that the film is a lot less credible than it wants us to think it is, the movie is also weakened by a tendency to lean towards action movie conventions. There is a moment towards the end of a film that mirrors a similar scene in The Kingdom, in which a inescapably grisly and painful scene is averted thanks to the sort of last-second heroics that seem to only happen in the movies. The weight of Scott’s statements about the corrupt way in which we conduct ourselves in modern warfare is diluted by his aversion to letting his film enter the real world on a more significant level. It’s just another sugar-coated Hollywood ending. Actually, as gritty as this thing tries to be before succumbing to convention.
Characters who are evil or have some level of moral ambiguity often tend to be more interesting by default. Sadly, Body of Lies is unable to overcome that hurdle. DiCaprio is the actor who puts the most effort into his performance here. He’s trying really hard, and he has all the challenging scenes. Despite the actor’s best efforts, the character is just really dull. DiCaprio is capable of carrying a film, but Roger is not. Meanwhile, Russell Crowe turns in one of the lazier performances of his impressive career, doing little more than sporting an easy-going southern accent and looking over his glasses on a regular basis.