Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Movie: Body of Lies (2008)

Damn the critics and the box office. This CIA thriller is smart, engrossing studio filmmaking. Supple direction by Ridley Scott. A twisty, profane script by William Monahan from David Ignatius’ he-knows-whereof-he-speaks novel. Leonardo DiCaprio flaunting his leading man chops while Russell Crowe serves up a juicy character performance. Plus Mark Strong in his immaculate bespoke wardrobe as the film’s secret weapon. Honestly, his suits were so beautiful they distracted me from the action. As I get older, I find myself more drawn to quality men’s wear.

Halfway through the film, I finally figured out why I was having such a fine time. The revelation occurred when Simon McBurney turned up in a small role as an eccentric Agency computer whiz. I thought, “It’s the Peter Lorre part,” and I realized that for all of Body of Lies’ visual razzle-dazzle, at heart it’s a 1940s thriller, the kind of movie cranked out regularly by Warners or RKO. Dick Powell or Mitchum in the lead, Claude Rains flashy in the Crowe part, Michael Curtiz behind the camera.

Maybe the problem is that the bar is set too high for what is seen, for good or ill, as the “War on Terror” genre. Critics expect every movie set against that backdrop to comment boldly about the state of our troubled world, while audiences shy away thinking they’re going to get a polemic. Not every WWII movie was under pressure to say something significant about the war. Many of them were simply entertaining potboilers about people doing difficult jobs at a dangerous time. Which is statement enough, really. That’s what Body of Lies is, and why I liked it. So there.

Miscellaneous: Links

I’m a week late in highlighting Eddie Muller’s salute to James Crumley. Read it for the Scott Phillips story. I can’t believe Crumley actually worked on the Judge Dredd script.

Behold the Biblio burro!