Body of Lies Blu-ray ReviewFebruary 19, 2009
Body of Lies (2008) purports to tell of America and its allies' use of counter-intelligence in the modern day fight against terrorism in the Middle East. Based on David Ignatius' novel of the same name, the story centers on CIA field agent Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio) as he follows leads on the whereabouts of terrorist mastermind Al-Saleem (Alon Aboutboul) operating out of Jordan. Ferris interfaces with the chief of Jordanian intelligence Hani Salaam (Mark Strong) in what becomes a game of who is playing whom to achieve the prize of capturing Al-Saleem.
Lies is director Ridley Scott's fourth teaming with actor Russell Crowe (Gladiator, American Gangster) and is easily the weakest. Fans hoping for another great collaboration will be disappointed as Crowe's work as high level CIA officer Ed Hoffman is wasted on the paper-thin characterization. From his home or comfy office, Hoffmann guides Ferris' field work with the use of sophisticated technology and intricate espionage "know how" and simultaneously plays into the "Body of Lies" by using manipulation and subversion at the expense of his own agent.
In the special features, Scott states that Hoffman was to be the "embodiment of American politics" and wanted the character to be "fat, sweaty and pompous." To that end, he utterly succeeds (Crowe even put on 30 pounds for the role) but there is not enough complexity to the portrayal past that to engender any sympathy or understanding. This is representative of what is wrong with this movie.
The film tries to balance both action and political drama and never quite makes either work together in a larger context. If you are familiar with the forceful action in Scott's Black Hawk Down (2001), you get much here that is equally well done, albeit on a smaller scale. But for every sequence where you are absorbed by the intense interchanges, you are soon thrown out of the mood into the twisted espionage plot. The pacing struggles to find its stride and feels disjointed trying to accomplish too much with too few resources resulting in the parts that do not work undermining the consistency of those that do.
David Ignatius has been a foreign correspondent for several decades and spent time with both American and Jordanian intelligence. His novel is said to be a complex and credible thriller lending insight into the efforts of counter intelligence after 9-11 and the mindset of the Islamic terrorists being combated. I have not read his book but if it succeeds in doing what is claimed, it is unfortunately not carried over into William Monahan's (Kingdom of Heaven, The Departed) screenplay. At no point do the terrorists portrayed seem anything more than media stereotypes, and while we do get a feeling for the covert double-dealings that may be in play, they are not presented in an in depth enough manner that makes for balanced storytelling.
What does work are the sporadic action sequences (taken for what they are) and the wonderful Middle Eastern settings presented with authenticity, some surprising moments of humor and the acting of DiCaprio and Strong (most specifically their scenes together are excellent). I would add to that the performance of Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani as Ferris' love interest Aisha. The chemistry between her and DiCaprio shines through but unfortunately the character's relationship, while necessary to justify the film's ending, comes off as an abbreviated subplot that lends towards the overall unevenness. Body of Lies is an ambitious project that regrettably never comes to fruition though it has enough workable moments to recommend as a rental.
Scott's films have a very distinctive visual style and Lies is no exception. Warner provides their standard full 1080p VC-1 encoded high-def transfer that is for most part stunning. Framed at 2.40:1, the stylistic graphics are rendered with amazing detail and clarity and deliver consistent dimensionality. The texture and filters used will change between scenes and sometimes shots to give a different feel to each environment or perspective to great effect. The elevated contrast at times becomes overly blown out which causes blacks to be somewhat dull but this is the intended artistic style paired with shifts between a muted palette and often vibrant use of color.
There is low-level grain throughout that becomes heavier in darker areas of the screen but is never obnoxious. Fine object detail is abundant in both close and wide shots with my only complaint being that the image seems almost too sharp at times. Considering how stylized the graphics are this could be intentional, but I am leaning towards it being the result of post processing enhancement of the transfer. Either way, this is a very impressive high-def image that faithfully reproduces the filmmaker's intent.
The high-def audio is no slouch either with 5.1 Dolby TrueHD providing an immersive soundscape during the action sequences. Chases or gunfights bring all six channels into play and sound as good as you would expect. Directionality and sound imaging are excellent with a rumbling low end to showcase the explosive combat.
In the quieter moments, dialog is never lost in the center channel and there are still many ambient effects through the surrounds such as the crowds on the streets or markets. While not a demo soundtrack due to the film's construction, the lossless audio delivers everywhere it needs to. Additional audio is provided with English, French, Portuguese and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks with subtitles in the same languages.
The special features (all in HD) help you appreciate the intent behind the film along with the execution. While they do not re-contextualize the film in such a way as to fully mitigate its flaws, they do make you more forgiving of them by realizing what Scott and crew were attempting. However, you should not have to sit through a commentary and an hour-plus of extras to appreciate a film.
Feature-Length Commentary with director Ridley Scott, author David Ignatius and screenwriter William Monahan. The participants recorded their parts separately, which shows, as there is a lack of interaction, references to the others not being present and some redundancy between comments.
The track can be dry but provides many interesting production details most specifically the effort to adapt the novel and what had to be changed or dropped (Monahan states there was enough content left out to make another movie). There are many moments where the implied context of a scene is made explicit which help to fill in gaps in the narrative and if the film could have been constructed to bring out this obscured intent, it would have allowed for a much more successful presentation.
Five Deleted Scenes (14:43, HD) with introduction and optional commentary from Scott. These are interesting to watch especially with the commentary, and there are a few (Aisha and Roger interacting and the alternate ending) that for my tastes could have added needed extra context.
Actionable Intelligence: Deconstructing Body of Lies (1:19:26, HD) is a documentary broken into nine segments that can be viewed separately, all at once or through Focus Points during your viewing of the movie. While this may use the Blu-ray BonusView (Profile 1.1) technology, this is not a PiP track as you are redirected to the particular content which takes up the whole screen.
Input is given from the director, main actors, producers, production designer, location manager, set locator and costume designer among others with subjects ranging from the dynamics of the characters, shooting on location, stunts and effects and adapting the novel. This is a thorough piece that allows for an appreciation of the effort to make the film, and, as with the commentary, the desired intent that I do not believe was successfully achieved.
Interactive Debriefing consists of six interview snippets (looking to be culled from the same source as the documentary) with Scott, DiCaprio and Crowe each on the subjects of Story, Collaboration and Intelligence. There are around 19 or 20 minutes of total footage that can be viewed all at once or separately through a pointlessly complicated grid menu.
The extras are rounded out with BD-Live support though as of this writing there is no exclusive content and a Digital Copy that works on both iTunes and Windows Media Player.
Body of Lies is a film that I wanted to like more than I did. After delving into the special features, especially the commentary, I have a greater appreciation of what Scott was attempting but I cannot rate the film based on intention. Crowe's talents are wasted though DiCaprio and Strong deliver engaging performances that are often overshadowed by the uneven script. The moments of acting and action that work do so well yet make for a rental at best.
Warner delivers a great high-def package with commendable Blu-ray transfer and lossless audio that bring out the best the film has to offer. The HD extras go a long way to helping understand Body of Lies and are recommended for fans.
- Robert Searle
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Body of Lies
February 17, 2009