10 February 2009

BODY OF LIES - (Dir. Ridley Scott, 2008, US)

I do not know what to make of Ridley Scott anymore. Post 2000, apart from the mediocrity of ‘Gladiator’, he has busily directed a number of high profile Hollywood films but unfortunately none of them have been particularly noteworthy or representative of the aspiring work achieved in the science fiction genre with films like ‘Alien’ and ‘Blade Runner’. His last three films have featured the Australian actor, Russell Crowe, but they are structured in such a confusing and lethargic way that they induce an emotional response which borders on frustration. In the countless press junkets and interviews, Ridley Scott always makes out as if he is somewhat of an independent, maverick film maker. However, what his recent films seem to reveal to me is that he has become just another director for hire who shops around for potential high concept film projects. He has also increasingly revealed himself to be a mainstream film maker who is strangely supportive of the dominant point of view and in ideologically dubious films like ‘Black Hawk Down’ (2001) and ‘Body of Lies’ (2008) he has validated the notion that American might and superiority is something positive and even righteous. Scott received some notable criticism for his xenophobic representation of Somalia and its people who are depicted in ‘Black Hawk Down’ as merely cannon fodder for the liberating power of an interventionist American military. The Guardian columnist and environmental campaigner, George Monbiot, was unequivocally scathing in his criticisms over Ridley Scott’s ‘Black Hawk Down’ in 2002:

‘The Somalis in Black Hawk Down speak only to condemn themselves. They display no emotions other than greed and the lust for blood. Their appearances are accompanied by sinister Arab techno, while the US forces are trailed by violins, oboes and vocals inspired by Enya. The American troops display horrific wounds. They clutch photos of their loved ones and ask to be remembered to their parents or their children as they die. The Somalis drop like flies, killed cleanly, dispensable, unmourned.’

‘Both saviour and victim’, George Monbiot, Tues 29 Jan 2002

Such an argument concerning the demonisation of Somalis into that of the savage blood thirsty ‘other’ offers a very regressive view of international relations and reinforces conservative black and white morality that one often found in the western genre. With his latest film, ‘Body of Lies’, Scott is merely paying lip service to the film’s supposedly even handed approach to terrorism and its representation of the Middle East and Muslims. No such impartiality exists as this is a film that appears to be a high tech thriller but is in fact a genre vehicle used to propagate and perpetuate a stereotypical view of the Middle East and its relationship with America. Both Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe are unexceptionally miscast in the lead roles as neither of them quite understand what it means to make a film about terrorism. In his review for ‘The Hollywood Reporter’, Frank Lovece summed up the contradictory pleasures of this film quite well:

‘If you're looking for a high-tech, old-fashioned racist B-western, you've come to the right place, pilgrim’ (Oct 6, 2008)


Referring to the film as ‘racist’ may be valid especially when one examines how the film tries and fails to counter the stereotypical representations of Muslims as Jihadi, monosyllabic evil terrorists with fleeting moments of questionable Hollywood liberalism. Take for example, the character of Aisha (Golshifteh Farahani), a nurse who was born in Jordan but with parents from Iran. She appears magically after Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio) arrives at a hospital looking for treatment. Aisha is shown as one of the good Muslims, shown to be performing a noble service for her country and her relationship with Ferris is supposed to offer audiences an insight into how American and Middle Eastern relations can work if only Muslims knew how to behave and act appropriately. Aisha is symbolically passive and represented as a one dimensional narrative function and never permitted to develop as a character in her own right. I can’t think of a film that Ridley Scott has directed that isn’t technically competent but his grasp of cinematography and editing does little to soften the impact of what is a very unintelligent and deeply conservative espionage thriller.


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