Any movie that has Jordan as its stage has, by default, something interesting to offer me as a viewer. And if behind that movie sits Ridley Scott in the director’s chair, with Russell Crowe and Leonardo Dicaprio in front of the camera, well, suffice to say, this has to be one heck of a movie. Unfortunately, Body Of Lies wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be. I have been waiting eagerly for a movie that ended up disappointing me as it’s already disappointed others on the Jordanian blogosphere.
The movie is based on a book that tells the story of a CIA operative (played by DiCaprio) who travels to Amman where he attempts to befriend the head of Jordan’s General Intelligence Department (or Mukhabarat in the local tongue), in order to capture an important terrorist. In the process, he ends up falling in love with an Iranian girl (who lives in Jordan and speaks Arabic), and begins to slowly change his mind about the so-called war on terror he has so valiantly fought during his days in Iraq. Pulling the strings is Russell Crowe, who is DiCaprio’s jerk of a boss.
Modern day Jordan has never been portrayed in Hollywood on this magnitude so with such a story set up, and these players behind and in front of the camera, one would think it would be a sight to see.
First of all, it was shot in Morocco, and Jordan looks like Morocco about the same way that New Zealand looks like Arizona. Interestingly enough, Dubai, Scott’s first choice, refused to allow the filming due to its politically sensitive nature. Second of all, Dicaprio speaking Arabic is as recognizable to me as a monkey speaking Japanese.
Jordan is referenced in a pretty negative way, especially with the extensive referencing of the GID’s notorious torture tactics. Calling the country’s primary security apparatus as the “fingernail factory” wasn’t very flattering. However, these sorts of things are kind of expected from a Hollywood movie. My main concern was with the story itself. It really felt incomplete.
We see DiCaprio’s character beginning to get a good sense of the country, moving away from the traditional line of American thinking that we’re all terrorists (thinking that is personified by Crowe’s character) and starts to think outside the box on how to capture such an important terrorist. His plan is pretty interesting and made me think of some of the events that have happened in recent years and how the conspiracy theories don’t seem so far fetched after all.
By the end, we see something that was almost evident from the beginning: a Jordanian mukhabarat that is much better at what it does than the CIA, despite the reminder from Crowe’s character at the GID headquarters “who pays the bills around here?”
Nevertheless, the ending simply felt incomplete and too idealistic. I was half-waiting for some great twist, but the film left me hanging like M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Happening”.
In any case, the film left me wondering more about whether it’ll be shown in Jordanian cinemas. Or maybe – considering its timing with the release of another Human Rights Watch report on torture in the Kingdom – whether it’ll inspire some public debate on the issue.
The likely answer is no. But in the meantime, we are likely to see more and more Hollywood flicks based on the Middle East as the war on terror drags on. With that in mind, I have to admit I enjoyed “The Kingdom” more so than “Body of Lies”.