Do we need another spy-action movie in which Americans try to solve some problem or other in a far-off, terrorist-infested land, and end up learning, after a series of shoot-outs, red herrings, and high-tech shenanigans, that the world is a complicated place resistant to quick, muscle-flexing fixes? Probably not, especially after Lions for Lambs, Rendition, Redacted, and Syriana have all recently trod similar ground.
But do we want to see Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe try their hand at the genre? Sure. Why not? If one allows that a spy-action movie doesn't necessarily have to deliver a new political or cultural critique to do its most basic job, then Body of Lies can be a satisfying, gratifying distraction. DiCaprio is certainly good enough as a culturally sensitive and heart-strong CIA agent to hold the audience's attention. And Crowe, who plays his boss at Langley, makes for a champion schlump and a winningly ugly American.
The plot will probably give déjà vu to certain movie junkies. There's this brilliant and fearsome CIA agent, see, and then there's a terrorist that said CIA agent's boss wants to catch, and then there's a safe house in Iraq that needs to be raided, and then one in Jordan that needs to be infiltrated, and there's also a sneaky double-crossing plot (or two) to be hatched, and a lot of desert chase scenes to be flashed on screen, and finally—well, it's hardly a spoiler to tell you that, finally, it becomes clear that the world is a complicated place resistant to quick, muscle-flexing fixes.
But if you're not worried about plot déjà vu or stale themes, and are into spy-action movies mainly for the spy-action itself, then Body of Lies is just perfect. People die—mercilessly, surprisingly, repeatedly. Friends betray friends. Helicopters swoop in to blow up SUVs holding jihadists wielding RPG launchers. Vans roll through crowded Arab markets trying to snatch up wanted types without attracting notice. And through it all, the unblinking eye of the CIA drone hovers over the action—the view from on high, repeatedly laid low by the complexities of life on the ground.