Movie Review: Body of Lies

Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe star as two hot-shot CIA operatives, Roger Ferris and Ed Hoffman, respectively. Roger risks his life, seemingly daily, in literally explosive situations in Iraq, Jordan and Syria. Ed is home in Virginia, a suburban husband, taking his kids to school, going to soccer games, all the while talking to Roger in the middle-east on the cell phone, making life and death decisions for poor Arab stooges caught in the dragnet of the CIA.  Improbable.

And this is just one of the improbable situations.

Roger speaks Arabic well enough to pass for a local and be able to tell that a woman in Jordan is from Iran from her Arabic accent. As a polyglot myself, I know that it is extremely difficult to speak more than one foreign language accent free.

Roger hooks up with a local nurse, whose family and neighbors must approve of the relationship. So he comes over for dinner and the nurse’s sister’s little kids speak English. I am sure this is done to make the movie easier to watch, but it takes away from the reality of it. Too many Arabs speak flawless English.

Roger sits in a cafe in the afternoon in Iraq, talking on the cell phone to Ed in Virginia, who is at a soccer match. What happened to the 12-hour time difference? It seems like these two guys were on the cell phone through half of the movie, and there might have been a few plausible time differences, but for the most part I was suspicious. I have traveled in Europe and my cell phones never work. These guys must have special CIA / Startrek cell phones that work everywhere, even in the Jordanian desert.

There are spy planes that can see a man in a crowded market and watch what he picks up with his hands, all on live video by guys in a dark room somewhere, who also are talking live on the phone, tapping into the cell phone conversations of the objects, the guys on the ground. This I cannot confirm or deny. I do not know if that is possible, but if it is, it’s  scary. If the government has it in for you, there is no escaping it. This is especially important in an age where the president of the United States can declare any of us an ‘enemy combatant’ and then come and arrest us in the middle of the night,  put us into some prison, without a lawyer, without a phone call, without charges, indefinitely. They have been doing that in real life — just not to you and me yet.

Roger risks his own life seemingly every day several times. What does a CIA operative get paid? Military pay scale? Must be. What would motivate a person to take on such a job? I can see that Ed does not have it so hard ambling about his suburban soap opera life style in Virginia. But Roger is in deep and dangerous trouble all the time, near bombs, bullets and murderous terrorists that think nothing of crushing your fingers with a hammer just to accentuate one of their points. You have got to love this stuff to keep doing it day after day. It just makes me wonder what  the real lives of CIA operatives in dangerous foreign countries are like? Are they one-man war machines a la James Bond, as Roger is depicted? Or do they have safety nets and backup? I guess you and I will never know, and we are stuck with novels and movies.

Body of Lies keeps you watching at the edge of your seat. Leonardo does a great job acting in this role. It’s good entertainment, notwithstanding that there are so many improbabilities and unbelievable scenarios that it makes it hard to swallow sometimes. I counted myself lucky to be living in security and comfort in Southern California and I wasn’t going to have to go out into those markets just to get my groceries. And that I have a very boring desk job.

Rating: ***

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