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Script Review: Body of Lies

Written by: Lance Carmichael, CC2K Staff Writer

ImageBody of Lies, currently in post-production in a state-of-the-art editing suite under Cheyenne Mountain (according to my sources), is set for a prestige season fall release by Warner Brothers. And there’s little wonder why: they’ve thrown as many Oscar ™ winners as they could afford at this baby, and tackled a subject ripped straight out of today’s headlines. For Body of Lies is about the war against terrorism, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe would fight it. And Ridley Scott would direct it (Hint: it’s not about terrorists and anti-terrorists coming together and having an earnest discussion about their feelings). Here we can only speak about the script, but don’t worry: it’s by an Oscar winner, too.

First, the tagline:

A former journalist injured in the Iraq war is hired by the CIA to track down an Al Qaeda leader in Jordan. Based on the novel “Body of Lies” by David Ignatius.

There’s no mistaking the fact that the guy who wrote The Departed—Mr. William Monahan—adapted this Body of Lies in question. Let me cut right to the chase, as would be typical of a Monahan-written character: Monahan takes everything he did in The Departed and does it for 130 more pages here. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The first thing you should know about a William Monahan script is that the guy can write. He really can. It’s a pleasure to read his script just as prose. I couldn’t find the exact reference when looking through it again, but at one point, Monahan describes a frustrated Leonardo DiCaprio Character as “a labrat desperately pushing the lever for more cocaine.” There’s little descriptive nuggets like that everywhere. Monahan knows what he does well—ruthless, career-minded men shouting at each other—and he looks for every dramatic excuse he can to show off this talent. Everybody is pretty much furious with everybody else for the entire movie, no one spares anybody’s feelings, and nearly all of the dialogue is a highly competent man being brilliantly insulted and put in his place by an even more highly competent man. There’s more testosterone dripping off the pages of a Bill Monahan script than in the collected works of David Mamet and Neal Labute combined.

ImageLike The Departed, Body of Lies is about men in a U.S. law enforcement institution doing whatever it takes to defeat their enemies. This time it’s CIA guys chasing Al Qaeda rather than Boston’s Finest going after Frank Costello’s crew. Roger Ferris (who will be played by Leo and will henceforth be referred to as “Leo”) is a young CIA guy on the ground in the Middle East, better at what he does than the incompetent bureau chiefs…but has a heart. Ed Hoffman (or “Russell Crowe”) is a high-up CIA guy back in Washington who recognizes Leo’s talent and screams at him over the phone about how we have to take off the gloves because dagnabit we’re in a war here, son…for pretty much most of the movie. DiCaprio has a crumbling marriage to a nymphomaniac he only sees when he’s recovering from injuries sustained in the Middle East back in the States, and a pretty stock love interest who periodically quenches the fires of his manly rage—in this case, a French aid worker who is no doubt smoking hot. Her gentle femininity tweaks his conscience, leading to him completing the familiar character arc from heartless soldier to less-heartless soldier we’ve seen a million times.

If you saw the preview for The Insider, you pretty much know what most of Body of Lies will be like. It’s men under intense pressure shouting at each other over cell phones, usually beginning their speeches with some variant on “Don’t fuck with me!” Russell Crowe smugly lectures Leo for most of the movie in speeches like this: “This is the New Model Al Quaeda. These are the new evolved analog cockroaches. They got in place and waited. This is war. This is not Osama got Lucky on his flying fucking carpet.”

You may not be able to tell from my somewhat snarky tone, but I think Body of Lies will turn out to be pretty good. We’ve certainly already gotten kind of sick of Terrorist Issue movies (anyone rushing out to pick up DVDs of The Kingdom and Rendition?), but we haven’t seen the William Monahan version yet. Trust me: this one will be better than those anemic exercises at cultural relevancy. Mostly because it’s so damn vulgar. The plot and subject matter are all intensely familiar, but then so was the plot and subject matter of The Departed. Monahan uses these no-shit-taking CIA guys as an excuse to tee off with naughty language and un-P.C. remarks. It moves fast, gets a bit old after a while, but never slows down enough for you get all that frustrated. Expect a solid B+ movie this fall.