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'Body of Lies' Riveting Spy Film, Character Drama

"Body of Lies," the new movie by acclaimed director Ridley Scott, delivers a riveting story about the Central Intelligence Agency's covert war on terror in the Middle East.VOA's Penelope Poulou says the new film is both an action-packed spy thriller and a complex psychological drama.

One would hardly guess that Ed Hoffman is the chief of the CIA's Near East bureau. He is a portly, avuncular fellow. He seems harmless, rather naive. But he is the one running a covert CIA operation in Jordan against a high-ranking terrorist leader, Al-Saleem. Russell Crow interprets Ed Hoffman as someone removed from the Middle Eastern psyche.

"It's cringeworthy, the cultural difference," Crow says. "But in a blink, you might realize that the character I'm playing is using [to his advantage the notion] that Americans have a reputation [for being naive]. If that's what you believe, then that's what I'm going to give you."

Leonardo DiCaprio plays Roger Ferris, Hoffman's fiery field agent.

"He's sort of immersed himself in this [Middle Eastern] culture," DiCaprio says. "He respects the culture. He knows the attitudes of the people there. He knows the language, and he knows the customs."

Inevitably, the two men clash, as Roger puts his life on the line on the ground while Ed oversees the operation from the safety of an American suburb, via his cell phone and satellite.

The stakes get even higher when Hani Salaam enters the scene. Salaam, played by British actor Mark Strong, is the head of Jordanian intelligence. Sophisticated, intelligent and charming, he hides a mistrustful and menacing nature. He offers Ferris local agents who would help him flush out the terrorist network in Amman in return for access to CIA files.

In "Body of Lies," the characters are neither heroic nor villainous. They are operatives doing their job. The film does not gloss over the cold brutality of their actions. They kill if they have to, they sacrifice innocent people in the name of war, they lie if necessary and, as the director says, they trust no one.

"Because if you have to be used, you will be used," says Ridley Scott. "And if you are running an efficient organization that is important to national security, you have to have that attitude. Otherwise, it leaves you vulnerable. You are weaker. It's like being a really good antique dealer. You got to be prepared to sell your favorite table."

The film's intelligent and edgy dialogues unfold through a succession of terrorist attacks, subterfuge and kidnappings. Ridley Scott's riveting cinematic vision and the actors' superb performances will satisfy action fans and drama-lovers alike.