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Posted by Dexter Matilla - - 0 comments

'Lies' in the war on terror
By Dexter R. Matilla
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:39:00 10/06/2008

MANILA, Philippines - Based on the novel by David Ignatius, editor and columnist of The Washington Post, "Body of Lies" shows the all-too-familiar partnership between war and deception. Ploys are layered with more ploys, and for players in such a messy game, trusting someone could prove fatal.

CIA operative Roger Ferris' (Leonardo DiCaprio) is in Amman, Jordan, to locate terrorist leader Al-Saleem. To do this, he blows up a US military base and makes it appear that Omar Sadiki, an architect, is the leader of a new terrorist group that shares Al-Saleem's extremism, but one that is more than capable of striking deep into the heart of America.

Over at the CIA offices (or wherever he might be at the moment), Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe) listens and sometimes even watches as Ferris feeds him intelligence reports.

A cunning strategist who is often seen with an earphone and enjoying quality time with his family, Hoffman sees people as being dispensable, including his best operative, Ferris, as long as the greater good requires it.

Subtle seduction

The role has Crowe putting on weight to show that his character is better off barking commands than being on the field and dealing with life-and-death situations the way DiCaprio's character does.

Working with Ferris is the head of the Jordanian General Intelligence Department, Hani Salaam (Mark Strong).

Always dapper-looking, the cold and calculating Hani decides he could trust Ferris, whom he finds to be decent enough to learn the Arab language. Hani himself is a master in the subtle seduction of pawns and adversaries, and, by being so, almost always gets whatever he needs.

Crowe and DiCaprio share the screen probably less than five times, with Hoffman even bringing up Ferris' ongoing divorce case with his wife, who in the book is a beautiful lawyer with an exceptional appetite for sex.

But the wife, Gretchen in the book, is not mentioned at all in the film, so playing as Ferris' love interest is the Iranian nurse Aisha (Golshifteh Farahani), who, of course, is eventually drawn to play a part in the deception.

Jumping from one country to another doesn't make the story-telling hard to follow as it is executed as a series of events triggered by one very deliberate plan.

Biggest pull

"Body of Lies" is as current as today's news, and the characters do not go into battle equipped with high-powered guns or fancy vehicles. Ferris even has what seems to be a partly burned laptop.

The film's biggest pull is not so much DiCaprio vs Crowe, as its revealing take on oil politics which continues to drive terrorism and the war against it.

"A subject that has always interested me as a writer is deception, and the process by which we deceive our adversaries," says Ignatius.

"I began thinking about how you would get inside an organization that proves nearly impossible to penetrate. If you couldn't get inside, could you make them think you're inside? The spy business is a lot like journalism. It's about identifying people who know things, gaining their trust, and then getting them to cross a line and tell you things they initially might not want to."

Screenplay writer William Monahan says he tried to remain true to the spirit of the novel.

"The story shows the intelligence world more or less as it is, with, if anything, more pragmatism and less political coloring than you find in the actual CIA. The frailties of Ed Hoffman appeal to me... we all know a Hoffman. Ferris' story is appealing to me in that it is all about individual conscience."

"Body of Lies" opens on Oct. 9.

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