There are three basic types of spy stories: 1) the one about the ultra-skilled professional spy who is almost always successful, e.g., James Bond; 2) the one about the civilian amateur who gets caught up in spy stuff, e.g., Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps; and 3) the one that depicts professional spying as a dirty depressing business, e.g., Hitchcock’s The Secret Agent and Topaze, or anything in the Graham Greene/John le Carré mold. Body of Lies (above), starring Leo DiCaprio as an agent stationed in the Middle East and Russell Crowe as his pudgy Washington controller, belongs to the latter category.
Directed with his usual visual proficiency by Ridley Scott from a screenplay by William (The Departed) Monahan, Body of Lies hits most of the required beats for this type of story, including the usual quota of chases, double-crosses, and explosions, and the part where the hero’s girlfriend or someone else close to him is captured by the bad guys. DiCaprio does well enough. Crowe creates yet another memorable characterization. If Body of Lies were simply a spy thriller, it would rate a solid “OK,” worth seeing for viewers who like that sort of thing, but not up to the level of my personal favorite in the spying-is-a-dirty-business genre, The Quiller Memorandum (1966 – scripted by Harold Pinter).
Fortunately, Body of Lies is more than a spy story. It’s also a story about an American (DiCaprio) trying to understand the culture of the Middle East. Although he does a lot of globe-hopping throughout the course of the tale, DiCaprio’s character spends most of his time in Jordan. His interactions with the Jordanian locals, a spy chief (Mark Strong), a nurse (Golshifteh Farahani), and various informants – all exceptionally well-cast – provide the movie with its interest and heart.