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Body of Lies (2008)

Warner Home Video
DVD Released: 2/17/2009

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2
Audio: 1/2
Extras: No Extras on DVD ( for Blu-ray Disc)

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/17/2009

There is nothing wrong with a movie being topical. A movie which features current events can hold a mirror up to society and help us to gain a better understanding of what is happening. But, these films can have issues as well. If the story true feels "ripped from today's headlines", it may not come across as very original or fresh. Or, if the topic is too raw and unnerving, but the movie may be depressing. Body of Lies tackles the idea of CIA agents in the Middle East and it runs the risk of hitting any of these pitfalls.

Body of Lies follows the progress of CIA Agent Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio), who works in the Middle East attempting to stop terrorist networks. He works under Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe), who is in Langley, Maryland at CIA Headquarters. Using sophisticated spy-planes and satellite imagery, Hoffman can track Ferris' every move. The pair are tracking Al-Saleem (Alon Aboutboul), a terrorist leader who is thought to be responsible for several bombings in Europe. Ferris finds a lead in Iraq, but he loses the informant before he can be questioned. He then moves on to Jordan, where he works with Hani (Mark Strong), an official with Jordanian security. Together, they initiate a plan to infiltrate one of Al-Saleem's safe-houses. However, Hoffman interferes. Ferris begins to grow weary of Hoffman's constant interference and feels that despite the fact that he is essentially alone in his mission, he has no autonomy. Ferris also isn't sure how much he can trust Hani. With this in mind, he constructs a plan to bring Al-Saleem out into the open. The plan is so ingenious that it will either succeed, or get them all killed.

The tagline on the DVD box of Body of Lies reads "Trust No One. Deceive Everyone". This makes the movie sound like a complex spy thriller. And it is, simply not in that way. This movie is not about spies who double-cross one another and lead double-lives. Instead, it focuses on the bureaucracy within the spy game, and how agents like Ferris canít even trust their own government.

Set in the present, although in a present where no one uses Bluetooth, Body of Lies does nothing to glamorize CIA activity in the Middle East. This isnít a James Bond film. Ferris is a flesh-and-blood man who gets injured (a lot), has certain rules which he must follow, and must often make his own opportunities. If anything, the movie plays like an espionage version of Dilbert. Ferris works very hard and risks his life to arrange operations, and Hoffman, halfway around the world, sabotages them by doing what he feels is right. And then following these debacles, he wonít accept blame or assist Ferris in picking up the pieces. We see Ferris as a man who is not only a stranger in a strange land, but one who often feels cut off from his own country as well.

If a movie about office politics set on a world stage doesnít sound very interesting, then you are correct. Body of Lies may have some new ideas to bring to the world of spy movies, but it does it in a plodding, and at times, boring manner. Veteran Director Ridley Scott manages to avoid bringing unnecessary style to the film, but he also gives it an incredibly sluggish sense of pacing. The movie runs at over two hours, and it feels very redundant at times -- Ferris embarks on a mission, thereís an explosion, he gets hurt, Hoffman is to blame, repeat. About half-way through the movie, a love-interest storyline is introduced, but this feels tacked-on and never seems genuine. We begin to question why Ferris even bothers. And ultimately, this may be the point of the film -- our Agents are up against so many roadblocks and ever-shifting forces that itís nearly impossible for them to do their jobs. With a movie like this, Iím always looking for the deeper meaning, and if the filmís theme is that Washington ties the hands of its own spies, we get that message loud and clear in the first 30 minutes, and the movie could have moved onto something else.

Body of Lies is one of those movies which should be great, but isnít. Again, Scott foregoes a hyper-kinetic and simply shoots the action, but he loses something in the pacing of the film. Crowe and DiCaprio are two of the most intense dramatic actors of their day, but if you are here to see them together, youíre wasting your time. They only share two scene where they are physically together, otherwise, they argue over the phone. The movie has a very broad scope and makes great use of its Moroccan locations. And yet, the entire affair is boring and depressing. It takes a bold film to take the glamour out of the spy business, but to turn it into a dreary, work-a-day existence may have been a mistake.

Body of Lies can be seen from space on DVD courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear, showing only mild grain and no defects from the source material. Despite the fact that the film has a slightly de-saturated look, the colors are fine. But, the image is somewhat dark at times. I noted some mild video noise in the grills of the cars. The DVD offers a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are very good, and display good stereo separation. The surround sound effects in the crowded market scenes are good and the explosions provide considerable subwoofer action.

There are no extra features on this DVD.

Warner Home Video has also brought Body of Lies to Blu-ray Disc. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains a VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 25 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing on grain and no defects from the source material. The colors are very good and the image is never overly bright, despite the fact that much of it takes place in the desert. The image shows off nice depth, and there is a notable separation between the foreground and background. The detail level is very good as well. The Disc offers a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 1.7 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. We get notably good stereo effects here, which show a nice level of detail. We hear many subtle noises in the market scenes. The surround sound is also good in these moments, and it really comes to life during the action scenes, especially those where bullets are whizzing by. The filmís explosions and car engine noises keep the subwoofer awake.

The Body of Lies Blu-ray Disc contains a few extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY with Director Ridley Scott, Screenwriter William Monahan, and Author David Ignatius. "Actionable Intelligence: Deconstructing Body of Lies" can be viewed two ways. One can choose to see the pieces via a pop-up icon which appears while watching the movie. Or, the nine segments can be viewed individually through the Special Features menu. In total, this amounts to about 75-minutes and it covers many topics, such as the characters, the costuemes and sets, Director Ridley Scott, filming in Morocco, stunts and special effects, and author David Ignatius. "Interactive Debriefing" allows the viewer to hear Scott, Crowe, and DiCaprio comments on the story, collaboration, and intelligence. The Disc contains five DELETED SCENES which run about 15 minutes and contain an introduction by Scott. The bulk of this is taken up by a scene with Ferris and Aisha. It wasn't missed in the film, but it did illustrate more of their relationship. There is also a short scene which clarifies a comment from Hani.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long