Movie review: Body of Lies (2008)

Body of Lies recounts what amounts to the end of a CIA agent’s career. The movie centers on three main characters: the CIA agent Roger Ferris (Leonard DiCaprio), his supervisor Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe), and the head of Jordanian intelligence Hani (Mark Strong).

The war on terror is the CIA cat and mouse game de jour. Drones are used for routine surveillance in this war, but the game is clearly played by people on the ground. Ferris always has local operatives he works with, but in Jordan the CIA lacks a pool of operatives. Ferris ends up seeking a working relationship with Hani to get the operatives he needs to monitor a safe house.

The movie roams around the Middle East and even in Europe and the US. The war and terrorists are fluid and Ferris is constantly crossing borders.

The morality of using locals willingly or unwittingly to get whatever small advantage is flirted with. Time and time again Ferris works with a local or uses a local in a way that ensures their torture and death. He lobbies with his supervisor to get them out to safety. His supervisor Hoffman disregards each request coolly and coldly from his physical and emotional distance. Where Ferris feels an obligation to help those who are his partners on the ground, Hoffman feels nothing about sacrificing others to get whatever scrap of intelligence he can.

At least Hoffman is upfront about his cavalierness. Hani uses Ferris as bait to catch the leader of a terrorist network. Ferris could have easily died. As it was, he was in pretty bad shape before the Jordanian intelligence interrupted his torture from taking a turn for the worse. All is fair in love and war. Life means nothing. What you get in return—the head terrorist, intelligence chatter, knowledge of plots—is far more important.

It is all rather sickening, especially since nothing changes. The war is not over. The battle is not won. Just more destruction, suffering, and death. Those on the fringes—Hoffman, Hani—manage to live dual lives—the normal day-to-day life of caring for kids or picking up beautiful women—while the insane webs that they weave entangle others. It is as if they are living in different worlds, the world of the privileged, because they actually do.

In the end, Ferris has had enough. He is offered a desk job in the CIA. But he walks away entirely, blending into the crowds in Jordan. He seems intent to stay in the Middle East and continue to nurture the beginning of a relationship with an Iranian refugee in Jordan. The war on terror will continue unabated and never-ending without him.


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