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Blu-ray Review: Body of Lies

A political thriller that takes advantage of what Blu-ray has to offer

Ridley Scott's Body of Lies was not a well received film by critics who were pretty much split down the middle giving it a 51% rating over at RottenTomatoes and then by audiences who only turned out to give it just over $39 million at the box-office. Considering we are talking about a Ridley Scott film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe those are some dreadful numbers. Thankfully, they say nothing of the quality of this film. Body of Lies is an enjoyable action film with a bit of political intrigue and a slew of modern gadgetry competing against old school word-of-mouth.

Among plenty of other things, Body of Lies takes a firm stance when it comes to the disconnect between those calling the shots in the Middle East and those on the ground carrying out the orders. At home is Ed Hoffman (Crowe), CIA head honcho, and on the ground is Roger Ferris (DiCaprio). Ferris is a young field agent that has obviously grown quite numb to a lot of what he does and is asked to do, but at the same time he is starting to grow a conscience and becoming more aware of his surroundings. We first see him sitting in on an act of torture and not even batting an eye, but later on when he has to execute a man that could give away his identity you begin to see a change.

Back home is Ed Hoffman who is giving orders in his bath robe from his backyard or while dropping the kids off for a soccer game. It's an obvious statement, showing the difference between someone who is thousands of miles away and barking orders over the phone compared to the person on the ground and delivering head shots just to save his own ass. Obvious or not, I enjoyed the comparison and I think it has plenty of merit. This is only a part of the puzzle as political intrigue and the war on terror is the main plot line, but this is the one part of the story I particularly enjoyed and connected with.

Both DiCaprio and Crowe are great in their roles with DiCaprio continuing to impress me every time out. Crowe put on a ton of weight for the performance and I can't help but wonder if he has yet to shed these additional pounds. The big surprise performance comes from Mark Strong who had one hell of a 2008 with Body of Lies, Good and RocknRolla and will continue the trend in 2009 with Sherlock Holmes and Young Victoria. Strong has a presence about him and there is a certain aspect of the way he carries himself that gives so much more to his characters and as the head of the Jordanian General Intelligence Department (GID) in Body of Lies he is fantastic.

The Blu-ray edition of this film takes full advantage of Alexander Witt's cinematography as the long-time second unit director for Ridley Scott takes over the role of DP and delivers some striking visuals. The picture is flawless with deep blacks and varying splashes of intense color as well as cool and comforting blues depending on where in the world you may be. Seriously, this picture is pristine, and I wish I had an even bigger TV to enjoy it on and the sound is equally stellar with a Dolby TrueHD track. Although I am a rabid fan of DTS tracks for what I believe to be the optimum audio quality the sound here is superb as buildings explode and rubble falls all around you.

In terms of features it comes with just the right amount of extras. First you have a group of deleted scenes that totals about 14 minutes and comes with optional commentary by Ridley Scott. He also has a short introduction to the scenes which features a look at his editing board as he shows you how he might go about putting the movie together by moving scenes around here and there. To my knowledge this was the first time I had seen something like this with a director using screen caps from the finished film. I have seen plenty of similar scenarios with pre-production storyboards, but it was cool to see it with him using the finished product. The scenes themselves are also particularly interesting, but I do believe they made the right decision in removing them. During the audio commentary screenwriter William Monahan makes mention that they could have made two films out of author, David Ignatius's book and there are a couple scenes on display here that shows how those two films could have been developed, since their addition to the story would have required even more on screen time to sort out all the additional plot threads.

Next is something best described as an interview gallery called "Interactive Debriefing" in which Ridley Scott, Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe talk about the story, collaboration and intelligence that went into making Body of Lies. This is pretty much the throw-away feature since I find these pieces to be rather stale and uninteresting as the other features offer plenty more. The big behind-the-scenes feature is called "Deconstructing Body of Lies" and it is a nine part 80 minute feature that can either be watched piece-by-piece from the main menu or during the film's playback. Each part takes a specific look at the making of the film including characters, costumes, stunts, locations, set pieces, effects and the film's source material. If you own The Dark Knight on Blu-ray it is the exact same kind of multi-part feature as is on that disc.

Finally comes the audio commentary, which is both good and bad. The good is the fact everything you hear is quite interesting, the bad is the three contributors -- director Ridley Scott, screenwriter William Monahan and author David Ignatius -- are not recording their segments together. Instead this is a patchwork commentary in which all three men recorded their commentary tracks separately and what I assume to be the best track for each moment is what was used. The comments made do flow well with what is on screen, but you quickly realize just how much more interesting it would have been had they all been together when Monahan talks about the task of adapting the book, Ignatius talks about the changes and Ridley talks about everything imaginable. Monahan also brings up the writers’ strike and how he couldn't even be on set during the filming because of it and so much chatter that would have been far more interesting had it been shared between the three men.

Overall, this is a title I would certainly recommend as a buy. It almost serves as Ridley's sequel to Black Hawk Down and just thinking about that makes me want to run the two films back-to-back for damn near five hours of war torn living room drama. Don't let bad reviews sway you; this appears to be a film that just had the misfortune of being released at the wrong time and unfortunately got overlooked as a result.

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  • adu

    This was the best 'war on terror' themed movie I have seen.

  • Jon

    I agree that this was overly criticized. I am obsessive about Ridley Scott and am probably as harsh as anyone toward him in a fair way because I expect a higher level out of him, but I thought for the genre that this was a remarkably well done film. But then again, I am in the minority with a lot of my preferences. I still believe that the director's cut of Kingdom of Heaven was one of the greatest films of all time, but to be honest, I had a turned stomach with what the studio forced out in the theatrical version.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/blog/brad_brevet/ Brad Brevet

    @Jon: I wouldn't call Kingdom of Heaven's director's cut one of the greatest movies of all-time, but I do like it a lot and agree it is a vast improvement over the theatrical release, which was not impressive in the least.

  • Jon

    @Brad Brevet: Obviously I misstated that, I meant in personal opinion it is one of my favorite. I do agree that there are better made movies, but none that rank as highly on my list just because I like the way it was made and the story it possessed. To be honest, Ridley reminds me a lot of a modern Anthony Mann and Kingdom of Heaven reminded me a lot of El Cid, which is another one of my favorites.

  • Siggy

    After I read the reviews I was prepared to be disappointed, but I was shocked at how good it was! Putting aside the fact Ridley Scott's always going to direct well, the story was fascinating.

    I really hope there is a director's cut for this, as I felt it needed some room to breathe.

    I can't really think of a film quite like Body Of Lies, a proper, modern espionage thriller set in the middle east. "The Kingdom" is all that comes to mind.