Plastic Podcast

The venerable and exceedingly intermittent Plastic Podcast, which has outlived the two blogs with which it was intertwined, and whose audio archives were difficult to ...

The Plastic Podcast

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Plastic Podcast

The venerable and exceedingly intermittent Plastic Podcast, which has outlived the two blogs with which it was intertwined, and whose audio archives were difficult to ...

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Daily Plastic is a Chicago-based movie blog, a collaboration between Robert Davis and J. Robert Parks, the same pair who brought you the wearable movie tote, the razor-thin pencil pocket, and that joke about aardvarks. If you know the whereabouts of the blue Pontiac Tempest that was towed from the Plastic Parking Lot on the evening of August 7th, 2008, or more importantly if you've recovered the red shoebox that was in its trunk, please contact us at your earliest convenience.

Davis was the chief film critic for the late, great Paste Magazine (which lives on now as a website) from 2005 through 2009, and he counts this interview with Claire Denis among his favorite moments. Every once in a while he pops up on Twitter. He's presently sipping puerh in Chicago, even at this hour. Meanwhile, Parks, whose work has appeared in TimeOut Chicago, The Hyde Park Herald, and Paste, is molding unsuspecting, college-aged minds in the aforementioned windy city. Media types are warned to stay clear of his semester-sized field of influence because of the distorting effects that are likely to develop.

The © copyright of all content on Daily Plastic belongs to the respective authors.

François Duhamel/Warner

The first half of Body of Lies is a crackerjack spy thriller. Leonardo DiCaprio is Roger Ferris, an up-and-coming operative who can actually speak Arabic. Russell Crowe is his handler back at Langley, driven to track down a terrorist (nefarious, obviously). The two Americans spend a great deal of time talking to each other on the phone, as Ferris criss-crosses the Middle East--starting first in Iraq and then Jordan and Dubai.

As you might imagine from the title, conspiracies and deception are intimated from the very beginning. Is that intelligence chief in Amman all he appears? What about Ferris’s new assistant? Is he on the up and up? And should Ferris really be falling in love with a Jordanian woman who lives in a Palestinian refugee camp? Of course, those of us who’ve seen these kinds of movies before will suspect Russell Crowe from the beginning.

The film, though, is more in the Tony Scott blowing-stuff-up mode than John le Carre’s cerebral approach. But Ridley Scott directs set pieces more effectively than his brother, incorporating high-tech surveillance footage and old-fashioned explosions into taut, urgent chases and confrontations that aren’t marred by ridiculously convoluted editing. This being a modern-day spy story, the Internet is also a primary location, though Hollywood still hasn’t learned how to make those kinds of encounters exciting (“now send emails to all his associates!!”).

The movie raises some interesting political issues early on, but those are quickly ignored for standard-issue espionage. Still, Scott and his editor Pietro Scalia move things along, offering just enough information to keep us guessing. That is, until the film’s final act when the guessing turns into head scratching.

The problem is that the film does such a good job of establishing Ferris’s motives early on that we don’t believe the story when his motives suddenly change. I spent far too much of the final 45 minutes asking, “Why is he doing that?,” and not coming up with a satisfactory answer. Indeed, a couple decisions are absolutely inane, but the movie hopes we won’t notice. This all culminates with a climactic scene that is both gratuitous and unconvincing. It’s all relatively watchable, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit disappointed.

4 Responses to “Body of Lies

  1. Doug says:

    I often think of Ridley Scott as one of my favorite Hollywood directors, but then I remember that the last movie of his I actually saw was, like, Gladiator. And I'm really still thinking of Blade Runner. I've heard good things about Black Hawk Down, Matchstick Men and the Director's Cut of Kingdom of Heaven. Have you seen any of these, J. Robert?

  2. Doug, I remember liking Black Hawk Down a lot when it came out, but I'm not sure if it would hold up well or even if you'd like it. I recall it being very Saving Private Ryan-influenced but powerful in its treatment of what being a soldier can be like. Matchstick Men didn't do as much for me, though I honestly remember almost nothing about it. I do remember it had one of those big twist endings that con-men movies seem to have to have these days. I've only seen the theatrical version of Kingdom of Heaven. It was ok, if ruined somewhat by the poor casting of Orlando Bloom. Did you see American Gangster? I thought that was a solid piece of genre filmmaking, with strong performances from both Denzel and Crowe. I think of Scott almost as a Tradition-of-Quality director, except that he's making big genre pictures.

  3. Doug says:

    That's a good comment about Tradition-of-Quality, I do think he is filling that role for Hollywood these days, although I do think he is capable of being more . . . I'm really looking forward to his return to SF with his adaptation of Joe Haldeman's The Forever War announced this week.

    I didn't see AG. I have heard from several friends that the DC of KoH is a vast improvement (it's about 3.5 hours long, I believe).

  4. Robert DAVIS says:

    I remember liking Matchstick Men OK, but like J. Robert I don't recall many details. I looked back at my review which jogged my memory a bit, but, still, it's light weight. A Good Year is atrocious.

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