Arts: Film/Body of Lies: A Movie Analysis term paper 42608

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Just before the action begins in the movie “Body of Lies,” four lines taken from W.H. Auden’s poem “September 1, 1939”flashed in the movie screen:

“I and the public know

What all the schoolchildren learn,

Those to whom evil is done

Do evil in return.”

W.H. Auden, September 1, 1939, 1939.

After September 11, 2001, Auden’s poem about the Nazi hostility which responds to the Treaty of Versailles, re-surfaced. Ridley Scott, director of “Body of Lies,”used the poem to drive home the message of the film: The Muslims and the West will always be entangled in a violent cycle, and ending that cycle will be very difficult, or impossible to do.

“Body of Lies” stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe, and is taken from the script written by William Monahan, which is adapted from a novel created by David Ignatius, (Turan, 2008). The movie tries to tell its audience that people who run from the current war on terrorism are alarmingly disconnected from the rest of humanity. "Body of Lies" turns out to be quite liberal, because it turns a skeptical look on that particular war.

Roger Ferris (DiCaprio) is a covert operative for the CIA then working in

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Jordan, seeking the terrorists who have been responsible for bombing innocent,

civilian targets. Subsequently, Ferris discovers information on an Islam mastermind, Al-Saleem, after which he planned to infiltrate the terrorist network surrounding Al-Saleem with the assistance of his CIA boss who was based in Langley, Ed Hoffman (portrayed by Russell Crowe). In his operation, Ferris also seeks the help of Hani Salaam – the Chief of Jordanian Intelligence – (played by Mark Strong). Ferris is uncertain as to what extent he can trust Salaam, without endangering his own life. This uneasy alliance becomes the backdrop for moral and cultural clashes between the three lead characters.

Ferris, as the only moral center in the story, studies the perimeters of the ethics in international espionage. He uses his charm, wits, Arabic language and speed in accepting assignments which endanger his life. He challenges foes, gains allies and woos an Iranian nurse. Hoffman is an interesting character, full of brash swagger, and at times Crowe’s mannerisms tend to overwhelm the Hoffman character – like when Hoffman tucks in his chin and glares over the brim of his eyeglasses to make eye with whomever he is speaking (Overstreet, 2008). Strong consistently conveys an eagle-eyed type of intensity which lends to a formidable screen presence.

One line which caught my attention, and which I believe is the source of

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the movie’s title, is Salaam’s warning to Ferris to never lie to him. Based

on that warning and Ferris’ subsequent actions, Salaam becomes the wild card in the story. Through Salaam, the film’s notion that America should have more faith on international ties to attain its goals, becomes effective. DiCaprio’s command of Arabic, which he speaks in the movie, and various mannerisms prove that he is the consummate professional.

The romantic subplot of the movie is distracting but crucial. The romance is practical in the sense that it portrayed the struggle of a Muslim woman concerning Western relationships. This woman also functions as a useful plot device which sets up the movie’s finale. Personally, I find the romance somewhat “forced.” Are the feelings of Ferris for the woman the only things which may humanize him and make him realize that he has not been really doing the right things all this time? “Body of Lies” does a great job in infusing emotion into its story (not like the latest political thrillers like Syriana, The Constant Gardner, Munich, etc,), and it’s a bit disappointing that the movie had to resort to its romantic subplot to “humanize” Ferris and put some real meaning into his life

When studying the cross-sections of what is known as the Iraqi conflict, it is essential – yet difficult – not to portray “locals” as nameless and faceless murderers. “Body of Lies” does this pretty well. In all probability,

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these locals are just regular citizens who want what most people in the world

want, and that is to put an end to war – any war. In all probability, too, they hate terrorism too, just like you and me. The movie, again does this well, by giving the audience one, central antagonist Al-Saleem, but providing several Arab allies, too.

In a nutshell, one thing that audiences could miss with movies like “Body of Lies” is that the films are not about the war, per se, but the people in that war – the lives they live, and the price which everyone pays. “Body of Lies” is all about trust, and the significant role that personal connections in the common battle against terrorism, versus the West’s over-dependence on high technology, after 9/11. As the film implies, nothing can replace the human factor of a human being owing his life to other human being(s). As indicated by Ridley’s use of Auden’s poem, there is no uncertainty that “Body of Lies” is perhaps antagonistic to some American values and attitudes. At the same time, it is also a movie which acknowledges the barbarity which comes from radical Islam, and that people who fight terrorism do so because they want to save human lives and put an end to atrocities. The choices may few and difficult, but they are decided all in good faith.

Visually, “Body of Lies” is stunning. Only a handful of filmmakers

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attack desert landscapes (the movie was filmed in Morocco) as able as Scott: interplaying dust and light, urban life density and sleek helicopters with dirty, run-down hovels.

From a visual and technical viewpoint, Scott’s approach to “Body of Lies” is akin to his war movie “Black Hawk Down” filmed in 2001. In both movies, he brings his audience into an intimate look at the war on terrorism. However, the main difference is that in “Black Hawk Down,” Scott refused to point to a particular character as the hero, which as a result, drains the audience with watching the super tension and mortality caused by combat. “Body of Lies” names Ferris as the defacto hero.

Scott’s follow up project to his sensational “American Gangster” is indeed, contradictory. However, we ought to be glad that Scott has joined the growing number of filmmakers who are educating Americans on complexities of a conflict in the Middle East. The War Against Terrorism is fast-becoming a new genre. Rendition, The Kingdom, Traitor, etc., have resulted in discussions. What I would like to personally see is a director who would closely examine certain convictions which set extremists from the other Muslims. What makes them tick, who are they behind the faces, what are they like at home…

Most likely, viewers will admire the conscientious hero in “Body of Lies,” Ferris. Nevertheless, most likely too, audiences will believe when

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Hoffman states that the War Against Terrorism will never be likely won. Rather, the War Against Terrorism will be ongoing, a constant conflict that needs strict vigilance, and no end yet in side. Just like how Ridley meant it when he used Auden’s poem, “September 1, 1939.”

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Auden, W.H. 1939. September 1, 1939.

Overstreet, Jeffrey. 2008. Body of Lies. Christianity Today

Retrieved November 18, 2008

Turan, Kenneth. 2008. Movie Review of Body of Lies. Los Angeles Times.

Retrieved November 18, 2008


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