BODY OF LIES
Review by Gordon Justesen
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio,
Russell Crowe, Mark Strong, Golshifteh Farahani, Oscar Isaac, Simon McBurney
Director: Ridley Scott
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 128 Minutes
Release Date: February 17, 2009
“Our world, as we know it, is a lot simpler to put to an end then you might think.”
When Ridley Scott makes a movie, the final result is always going to be good in the least. But when you mix his vision with screenplay that’s across the boards compelling, you can expect something simply outstanding. With Body of Lies, Scott has made another terrific piece of filmmaking to add to his resume of classics.
Never limiting himself to a single film genre, Scott applies his unique vision to the spy thriller, this one based in the Middle East. The screenplay by William Monahan (The Departed), adapted from the novel by David Ignatius, is a masterwork in the many themes it explores. It’s a procedural thriller, looking at how both American and Middle Eastern governments operate in the War on Terror, but it’s mostly riveting in the way it places the viewer in the shoes of a CIA agent in the field.
Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio) is an operative whose assignments have him moving back and forth between Iraq, Jordan and Syria. The minute he gathers intel or makes a contact, he feeds it back to his boss back in D.C., Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe). Ferris has been undercover in the Middle East for what feels like an eternity, mainly because whenever he’s ready to board a plane for home Hoffman has another task for him to complete.
One of the great aspects of the movie is the way it showcases the two men’s daily lives as they engage in what seems like never-ending cell phone contact. Ferris could be in the middle of a gunfight, while Hoffman (never without his ear piece) is sidelines at his kid’s soccer game. It perfectly illustrates what differentiates the ones who control the war and the ones who are doing all the real fighting.
Government technology also plays a huge role in the movie, and the way Scott visualizes the use of it is really remarkable. Hoffman is able to keep an eye on Ferris’ every move through real-time satellite images in the sky. I was reminded of the scene from Patriot Games when the CIA observes, via satellites, military forces attacking terrorist training camps in Africa…only here the showcasing of the technology is way more effective.
The entire basis of this assignment is to take down a terrorist leader named Al Saleem. Hoffman’s latest strategy in pulling this off is pairing up Ferris with Hani Salaam (Mark Strong), the head of Jordan’s Intelligence Agency. It ends up placing him in a sticky situation, since Hoffman is a bit shady in his maneuverings and Hani is just as manipulative and enforces one major rule to Ferris: never lie to him.
Ferris eventually comes up with a unique strategy for smoking out the elusive terrorist leader. The plan is to fabricate a rival terrorist organization and orchestrate an attack at a particular site, which will hopefully lure their target out of hiding. This brilliantly reflects the quote by W.H. Auden that opens the movie: “Those to whom evil is done Do evil in return.”
DiCaprio and Crowe are both outstanding in their roles, which represents a flawed relationship between two men in the same business who want the same thing done. Crowe shows his dedication to the craft of acting by putting on close to 50 pounds and looking like a true sleaze. And DiCaprio, following up his brilliant turns in The Departed and Blood Diamond, gets so tremendously bruised and beat up in this film, mentally and physically, that I’m convinced his battered face in the end wasn’t brought to life through makeup.
One other great performance I must address is the one delivered by Mark Strong, an actor on the rise who keeps turning in one memorable piece of acting after another. His strong work can be seen in films such as Sunshine, Stardust and Rocknrolla, though you may not recognize him because he has already established himself as quite a chameleon. And here Strong, who’s British, is at his most unrecognizable as a Jordanian, and thoroughly convincing!
Body of Lies is a brilliantly complex, endlessly gripping and terrifically piece of large scale filmmaking from the great Ridley Scott. It works solidly as both an action thriller and a richly detailed examination of how the government carries out covert wars. What it all boils down to, and what the movie says with brutal honesty, is that NOBODY is innocent.
Ridley Scott and HD were simply made for each other, and the video presentation on this Blu-ray release from Warner illustrates that notion beautifully. Scott authentic use of locations, especially Morocco, show up here in phenomenally amazing detail, as does the cinematography of Alexander Witt (who also did 2nd unit photography on Scott’s Gladiator and American Gangster). The anamorphic image is as razor sharp as an HD presentation can deliver, along with amazing color tones. Hands down, one of the best looking Blu-rays to date!
Scott’s films always guarantee a gargantuan level of awesome sound quality, and the TrueHD mix is every bit as fantastic as I was expecting. Words can’t express how awesome the action sounds in this presentation. An early scene involving a chase between helicopters and jeeps is a real heart-stopper! Music playback is captured wonderfully and the many authentic set pieces allow for countless moments of multi-channel surround. Dialogue delivery is thoroughly clear, as always. Without question, a Blu-ray disc you’ll definitely want to test your system with.
It wouldn’t be a Ridley Scott release without some truly awesome extras, and the Blu-ray even happens to have some exclusives. The highlight of the features is “Actionable Intelligence: Deconstructing Body Of Lies”, a nine segment behind the scenes documentary that runs close to 80 minutes long and can be viewed as the movie is playing or by itself. Also included is a commentary with Director Ridley Scott, Screenwriter William Monahan, and Author David Ignatius. Among the Blu-ray exclusives, there’s “Interactive Debriefing”, a collection of interviews with Ridley Scott, Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe, which clock in at around 20 minutes and can be viewed collectively or individually. The second exclusive Blu-ray feature are five Additional Scenes with an introduction by Scott, as well as optional commentary.
Also included is a Bonus Disc containing a Digital Copy of the movie.
Body of Lies is yet another bold piece of grand filmmaking from Ridley Scott. It places you in a dangerous environment and doesn’t flinch for a single second. It’s both adrenaline charging and thought provoking, a combination you don’t normally get in mainstream movies.