A Clash of Faiths: Ridley Scott’s Body of Lies

Ridley Scott

Body of Lies movie poster

 

Ridley Scott’s follow up to the gentle comedy of A Good Year (read The Dork Report review) and the crime drama American Gangster (partly modeled, I think, on Michael Mann’s epic Heat), returns to the politically-themed yet still action-oriented territory he first visited in Black Hawk Down. The key difference here is that, like Peter Weir’s The Kingdom and Pete Travis’ Vantage Point (read The Dork Report review), Body of Lies is set in a fantasyland safely divorced from the very, very real events that inspired Black Hawk Down. All of these films have the air of gritty realism, but still indulge in the wish fulfillment of a very cinematic war on terror.

Body of Lies can be seen as completing a kind of Middle East trilogy for Scott, after the aforementioned Black Hawk Down plus the Crusades epic Kingdom of Heaven (read The Dork Report review). Screenwriter William Monahan wrote both Kingdom of Heaven and Body of Lies (adapted from the novel by David Ignatius). But of the three, Body of Lies is clearly the least serious.

Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio in Body of LiesMesopotamia, and step on it!

No doubt movie studio executives have calculated down to the last cent that world audiences are still too sensitive to actual terrorist attacks like London and Madrid in order to buy tickets for dramatic recreations on the big screen. Instead, most mainstream terrorism-themed movies are basically entertainments that only have the feel of serious import, and none of the substance. Body of Lies invents analogous terrorist attacks such as a sleeper cell blowing up their London flat, and later, the bombing of a U.S. marine base in Turkey (I hope O’Neal – Demi Moore – from Scott’s G.I. Jane – read The Dork Report Review – wasn’t stationed there). Vantage Point is a little more creative in imagining a worst-case-scenario of a presidential assassination, but has no interest in the repercussions beyond a Rashomon-like recounting of the immediate aftermath.

So audiences get films like this, where shadowy CIA operatives sneak around Iraq and Jordan, saving the world from Islamic fundamentalism. They have seemingly limitless resources but no government oversight, and anything is possible with a little computer hacking. Meanwhile, more serious and realistic movies are ignored, like In the Valley of Elah (read The Dork Report review) and the truly excellent but emotionally devastating United 93. In comparison, Scott’s Black Hawk Down was unafraid to recreate actual events still raw in the American public’s memory: the catastrophic marine incursion into Somalia in 1993. And even to limit the scope to Scott’s own oeuvre, Kingdom of Heaven is a much smarter consideration of the clash of faiths in the Middle East.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Golshifteh Farahani in Body of LiesLeo meets cute with an Iranian nurse (Golshifteh Farahani)

Body of Lies is Russell Crowe’s fourth film with Scott, following Gladiator, A Good Year, and American Gangster. Here, he packs on some serious poundage to enter the same schlubby mode he debuted in Michael Mann’s The Insider, seasoned with a little of the crass bastard he played in A Good Year. Leonardo DiCaprio, on temporary loan from Martin Scorsese, sports a scrappy beard but still looks like a teenager. The pretty boy is constantly getting beaten up, cut, bruised, and losing fingers. But he meets cute with pretty Iranian nurse Aisah (Golshifteh Farahani), so that’s alright, then.


Official movie site: www.body-of-lies.com

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Persepolis

Persepolis

 

Named after the ancient Persian city, Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel Persepolis is a memoir of her life in Europe and Iran after the Iranian revolution. This animated feature joins the growing ranks of comic book adaptations that prove that comics are not only about superheroes that dress up in animal-themed costumes to battle crime. Hopefully it, along with other good comics-to-film triumphs Ghost World and A History of Violence, will broaden moviegoers’ awareness of the many alternative genres already explored in comics.

PersepolisThe spirit of punk invades Iran

In a rare privilege perhaps only ever shared by Frank Miller in making Sin City with Robert Rodriguez, Satrapi served as co-director and writer of the film (with Vincent Paronnaud). She sings music to my ears in the DVD bonus features; to paraphrase, she states that it is a fool’s errand to make a literal, strict adaptation of any graphic novel to film. As comics writer Alan Moore once brilliantly and succinctly put it, comics are wholly unlike movies because, simply, “movies move.” The recent trend in Hollywood is to perform fan service (as it’s known) and make the most literally faithful adaptations possible. Sin City, 300, and the upcoming Watchmen all procede from the flawed presumption that the source materials’ fanbase (the nerdy, genre-convention-attending strawmen in studios’ equations that they expect to be buying the tickets and DVDs) want nothing less than perfect transitions from page to screen. But such a thing is never possible, let alone desirable.

Persepolispolitically conscious at a young age

That said, Persepolis the film does share the strikingly stark look of Satrapi’s characteristic pen and ink illustrations. A mostly black & white animated French memoir about a young Iranian woman could never be mistaken for blockbuster material, but it is funny, illuminating, and moving.


Official movie site: www.sonypictures.com/classics/persepolis

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