Monday, October 13, 2008

Boring of Lies

If you were to go through all of Ridley Scott's filmography, you might be surprised at how consistently huge his movies are. His films might even be the most recognizable in Hollywood besides Steven Spielberg's. Take a look at this list: "Blade Runner," "Alien," "Thelma & Louise," "White Squall," "G.I. Jane," "Gladiator," "Hannibal," "Black Hawk Down," "Matchstick Men," "American Gangster." It is not a stretch to say that the average movie goer could easily tell you what most of these movies are about and what big stars were in them. He uses big, melodramatic themes -- death & glory, war & peace, nature & man, man & machine -- and makes big, melodramatic movies about them that, usually, people flock to. "Body of Lies" is Scott's third attempt at a modern war movie, and it certainly is nothing if not sweepingly expansive. The film follows C.I.A. operative Leonardo DiCaprio through Jordan, Afghanistan, Virginia, Washington, Dubai, and is what I would call a melodrama with a middle man. You've got the good guy -- DiCaprio -- tracking down the bad guy -- terrorist boss -- with the help, but mostly hurt, of maybe good guy / maybe bad guy C.I.A. boss Russel Crowe. Is Crowe actually on DiCaprio's side? Is he running his own game? Are the characters underdeveloped and bland? Despite gun fight, torture, helecopters and explosions, is the movie still a giant flatline hunk of overcomplicated boredom? Yes, yes, yes and yes.

Imagine how "Alien" would have played out if Ripley was never in the same space ship as her crew, and they just made phone calls to each other. For the entire movie. Now replace the crew with a fat Russel Crowe, and Ripley with a scraggly bearded Leo. Vaguely reference the fact that Crowe ignores his family due to his work, and make the audience empathize with Leo's character based solely on the fact that we don't like Crowe. Now you are beginning to get an idea of how "Body of Lies" functions. While Leo is running around the middle east fighting for national security, Crowe hangs out in the U.S. and gives him instructions. Why on earth (and I do mean the entire Earth; Iraq, Quantico, uh, Dubai...where's this movie set again?) would you waste two major talents by having them act opposite cell phones the whole time? This is one of those problems that isn't fixable with a simple re-write or clever editing. The whole thing is a bad idea and Ridley Scott does not make it work in the least bit.

Throughout the movie, Leo gets beat up, shot at, kicked out of a country, separated from his love interest, and eventually tortured. All of it is jut plain boring, though, since it is made very clear that Leo is safe safe safe. There aren't any other characters to fall back on, so we know Leo will never get hurt or leave the story (what, would Crowe just keep yapping into a dead cell phone?). When he gets kicked out of a country, after a little while he gets let back in. When he gets shot at, no bullets hit him. He loses his love, but is sure to find her. And, when he's about to get his head cut off and posted on the internet, of course the cavalry will arrive at the very last second. He loses some fingers in the process, but hey, he can still dial with the other hand.

Crowe's scenes, back in America, are totally squandered. His family is never anything but periphery, and even though they hang around while he's on the phone, they never do anything. He still just talks in exposition the whole time.

Now, go back and look at that list of movies at the top of the review. Can you name one, besides "Alien," that you would want to go back and watch again and again? "Blade Runner" doesn't count, because Scott has apparently spent his vacation time every year since 1982 re-editing and re-releasing it. Have you ever had a huge desire to see "G.I. Jane" again, or go back to "White Squall" or take "Matchstick Men" for another ride? My guess would be no, and I think this is because Ridley Scott's films tend to date themselves very quickly. No matter what time period they are set in, they look very 80's or 90's, kind of how David Fincher's movies all have that weird, digital sheen to them that is sure to look even more bizarre ten years from now. "Body of Lies," with its bland approach to world affairs and too-long plot, already somehow seems dated. It's almost as if you don't even have to go see it in the first place.

(and with that, I think I've broken the ten movie mark and I'm all caught up on my movie going! Time to read Little Women in audio book form.)


Ryan said...

it was actually pretty sweet.

joe said...