Since returning in September, there hasn't been a film I wanted to see in the multiplexes. So yesterday I decided to see Ridley Scott's Body of Lies, a political thriller about the middle east. Not a great film by any means, but interesting enough for the most part.
The weaknesses are typical of many Hollywood films today: over-edited and over-long. The action scenes do not work at all, partly because of digital special effects used for simple chase scenes. There has often been a comparison lately between Hollywood action scenes and video games, but this may be the first film in which video game graphics are more realistic. In this case, a comparison to video games would actually be an insult to video games. The narrative structure is also far too loose. A tighter focus would have made the thematic clearer. However, as a Hollywood political film, this may not have been possible. The length and confusion is needed to make sure the politics are sufficiently blurred.
Despite this, Body of Lies does manage to make a point, albeit a very accepted one at this time: America is out of touch with how to deal with the "war on terrorism", especially when you get beyond the ground level and into the management class. To do this, the screenplay plays on the old American mythology in an intriguing way. Both opposing protagonists work for the state and are thus "official" heroes. With America involved in a global war, this makes sense. The autonomous outlaw hero of the past mythology would seem out of place in this story. However, the film's quite effective conclusion turns the lead character (played by Leonardo DiCaprio in another solid performance) into an outlaw of sorts, rejecting the war and government he has been fighting for and staying in the "frontier" of the middle east. And despite his allegiance to a woman, the ending is ambiguous over whether he can join her. Increasingly, American culture seems to want a return to the old autonomy and to disengage with being the "world police". Body of Lies is one example of Hollywood hoping to express and capitalize on this feeling.
Final note: both Body of Lies and The Departed were written by William Monahan, and they feel very similar. I would argue that they have more in common with each other than each respective films have in common with other films by their famous auteur directors Scott and Scorsese. Perhaps making films in the big budget Hollywood arena with its standardized style is making directorial self-expression more difficult.