A new espionage thriller tracks a key American intelligence agent in the Middle East as he attempts to balance ideology with reality, on the front lines of the war on terror. Ridley Scott directs the adaptation of a best-selling novel by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius. Alan Silverman has this look at Body of Lies.
Ed Hoffman, played by Oscar-winner Russell Crowe, is a veteran Middle East hand, directing operations in the region from CIA headquarters in Virginia.
Agent Roger Ferris - Leonardo DiCaprio - has Hoffman's orders ringing in his ears (delivered by the ever-present mobile phone) while he tries to succeed and survive in hot zones across the region.
They are in pursuit of a notorious terrorist named Al-Saleem who is planning a series of attacks. After barely making it out of Iraq alive, the chase leads Ferris to Amman, Jordan, where, over Hoffman's objections - telephoned from Langley, of course - he seeks the help of Jordanian intelligence chief Hani Salaam, played by London-born Mark Strong.
Meanwhile, Hoffman, back at CIA headquarters, puts his own plan into action, risking not only the fragile alliance but the life of his own agent.
As Hoffman, Russell Crowe literally phones it in: spending much of his time barking orders, cajoling and manipulating ...but rarely face-to-face.
"There is a distance between him and the reality of what he is doing, so it is easy for him," Crowe explains. "He is playing a video game whereas Ferris is inside it, in real life."
Leonardo DiCaprio says Ferris is forced to choose between what is morally right and what may get the job done.
"There was this great conflict set up in the book of this dilemma that this character has where he is asked consistently to do things that he does not believe in for the betterment of his country and this war on terror," DiCaprio says. "He wants to do the best job he possibly can, but he is being manipulated by both sides. So, besides just being a great political piece that is pertinent to this time, it is this fantastic cat-and-mouse espionage thriller that works on its own."
Director and producer Ridley Scott adds that Ferris's trust-based affiliation with Jordanian intelligence chief Hani stands in sharp contrast to the agent's relationship with his dogmatic, pragmatic boss, Hoffman.
"I think this is fundamentally about seduction and betrayal," notes Scott. "If necessary he will betray his most valuable asset in the field if the reward is a higher reward than losing his asset."
Body of Lies also features celebrated Iranian actress Golshiftah Farahani as a nurse who treats the agent's injuries and helps him understand more about the culture in which he is working. Israeli-born Alon Aboutboul portrays the clever and deadly adversary, Al-Saleem. Much of the film was shot in Morocco, where director Scott found locations to believably stand in for settings from Iraq to Jordan.