Body Of Lies [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - Australia - Warner Home Video
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (1st April 2009).
The Film

If there's one topic that's been abused by Hollywood recently it's got to be terrorism, a close second is the Iraq War. Two topics that have impacted the world in major ways and emerging from that are a collection of compelling stories. Stories that range from the soldiers on the front lines all the way through the halls of power. Stories that concern the effects of war on people to the advancement in technology that allows the United States to fight a more precise war, locate targets effectively and efficiently, etc. "Body of Lies" incorporates most of these elements into this thriller about a covert agent and his powerful CIA boss who uses him as a puppet. Visionary filmmaker Ridley Scott takes audiences through a veritable roller coaster ride attempting to fuse political themes with action that only Hollywood can pull off.

"Body of Lies" tells the story of Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio) who managed to uncover a major terrorist organisation suspected of operating in Jordan. The group was responsible for a botched attack in Manchester, England. What ensues is a major hunt for the group leader, and coordinated by his CIA boss Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe) strategising events from the United States. The lines of trust are blurred and Ferris must make it through the other side when his own Government becomes a burden and makes cooperation with Jordanian officials difficult.

"Body of Lies" is big budget filmmaking at its most effective, the script comes from "The Departed" (2006) scribe William Monahan and features all the telltale trademarks of what makes an entertaining action-thriller; a modern-day story dealing with themes and events we're all familiar with; intriguing characters, a healthy amount of edge-of-your-seat action and espionage, and a love interest sub-plot that leads our hero towards an exhilarating but ultimately unsatisfying ending (I did find that the love interest sub-plot with Aisha (Golshifteh Farahani) serves no other purpose other than to make a connection to the ending and getting our hero from point 'A' to 'B'... it can be telegraphed from miles away and there are better ways to show off the humanity of the character other than with his forced relationship with her).

Scott directs this film with the usual amount of flash, his slick commercial style lends itself well to this subject matter and features plenty of quick-cuts and smooth transitions. This however, gets boring quickly, there were plenty of gritty moments in this film that could have benefited from being shot in a gritty fashion, combined with the flashy and slick for juxtaposition could propelled the film's look from good to great.

The film features the usually high-calibre acting from it's leads and also from the film's support cast. Just as easily as Scott develops career making performances from relative newcomers he manages his A-list stars equally well and balances their performances so it never feels like anyone is trying to steal scenes or one-up each other. Both Crowe and DiCaprio have a tendency to chew the scenery but casting them in a film where they get little screen time together was just plain smart, the majority of the film they exchange dialogue over a phone.

As far as casting goes, I'm still unconvinced about DiCaprio, perhaps the role should have gone to someone older? Someone with more gravitas, as I found it hard to buy him in the role of Ferris. This isn't to say that DiCaprio is a bad actor, he does a fairly decent job in this film but I couldn't help think how much better this film would have been if the character was played by someone like Brad Pitt (I guess the role is similar to his character Tom Bishop in "Spy Game" (2001) directed by Ridley's brother Tony Scott) or Viggo Mortensen? Mortensen is probably a better choice as I can see him with a shaggy beard blending in with the Arab locals.

In the end there are themes at play about technological dominance, the lengths a Government will go in the effort to stop terrorism, the lies, consequences and collateral damage left in its wake. But these themes are occasionally lost among the big Hollywood spectacle that it ultimately is. Scott tries to maintain an intelligent air to "Body of Lies" when in fact its a wolf in sheep's clothing, this film is over-produced fodder for the blockbuster masses. It's entertaining and loud and serves its purpose...

Video

Presented in the film's original theatrical ratio of 2.40:1 this image comes to viewers on Blu-ray in high-definition 1080p 24/fps and has been mastered using the VC-1 compression codec. The film's overall look is largely dependent on where the action is taking place, for example the Washington D.C. based scenes lean towards a faint blueish hue, while the Middle East is appropriately golden making its desert backdrop all the more obvious. The image is sharp, clean and displays an incredible amount of detail right down to the specks of dust that make up the Middle Eastern locales. This would pretty much be a top notch effort if weren't for a few minor problems that I spotted, the heightened contrast in some scenes blows out the white levels and they appear distracting at times and I noticed some edge-enhancement in several scenes. I was pleased with the black levels, colors (especially skin tones) and shadow detail which remains consistent throughout the film.

Audio

Warner Brothers has released this film with five audio tracks in English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround as well as standard Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in English, French, Portuguese and Spanish. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its TrueHD track. Hooray! It's great to see Warner Brothers embrace HD audio, having recently reviewed a couple of catalogue titles with just standard 5.1 audio I'm glad that more films are getting a better audio treatment. "Body of Lies" is everything a blockbuster Hollywood movie should be and the audio track is no exception, the film is filled with aggressive and active sounds from flashy sound effects that emphasize transitions to big effect sounds like explosions and gun fire. They come off loud and powerfully throughout the 5.1 sound space capturing the on-screen brilliantly and immersing the viewer. Te mix displays excellent range from the loud aggressive sounds to the subtle ambient and environmental surrounds. Furthermore the dialogue is clear and distortion free and the score pumps through the channels and never feels too overbearing. Overall this could be considered reference quality material.
Optional subtitles are included in English, French, Portuguese and Spanish.

Extras

Warner Brothers has included a fine collection of extras that includes an audio commentary, 9 featurettes, a series of deleted scenes and an alternate ending as well as an interactive feature, BD-Live features and a digital copy of the film. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

First up is a feature-length audio commentary by director Ridley Scott, screenwriter William Monahan and author David Ignatius. Each of the participants were recorded separately and edited together to create this track, personally I prefer it when participants record a track together, which allows for open conversation about the film. In this case the track feels a little scripted, dry and it's hard to remain focused on it. Each participant comments on their involvement in the film, the adaptation process, story elements, casting and working with the actors as well as shooting on location are some of numerous topics covered in this track. They also comment on the themes and current Middle East climate that is portrayed in the film among other things.

Next up are a series of 9 "Actionable Intelligence: Deconstructing Body of Lies" featurettes, you can watch this as a "Focus Points" feature which allows you to access the clips as you watch the film, or you can access them individually through the disc's menu. Overall these featurettes cover an incredible amount of detail regarding the production and well worth your time to check out. These clips include:

- "Uneasy Alliance: Ferris and Hoffman" runs for 7 minutes 23 seconds, in this first featurette we get a look at the casting of the two leads and on shooting key scenes from the film. We get some interviews, behind-the-scenes footage and clips from the film as we see these two actors do their thing on set. We get an insight into the characters and the preparation the actors underwent in order to play these roles convincingly.

- "Foreign Relations: Ferris and Aisha" runs for 6 minutes 37 seconds, this clip takes a look at the relationship between the characters Ferris and Aisha, it features more interviews with key cast and crew as they comment on the sub-plot among other things.

- "The Color of Toast: Costume and Production Design" runs for 8 minutes 41 seconds, This is one of my favorite clips on this disc as it focuses on the production design process, the filmmakers talk about the level of detail they were after in their sets also looks at finding the locations of the film, mainly in transforming Morocco into several Middle Eastern locations. We also get a look at the costume design for the characters and finding the right look for them as well as extras used in the film.

- "Master of the Craft: Ridley Scott" runs for 7 minutes 59 seconds, basically this clip takes us behind-the-scenes and reveals how Scott works, his directorial techniques and on working in North Africa on location for the fourth time. Primarily the clip focuses on how much the director likes working in Morocco, on knowing the country, culture and working process. There was also interviews with cast and crew patting the director on the back and telling us why he's so great.

- "Safe Haven: Morocco" runs for 7 minutes 50 seconds, an extension of the previous clip, here we get a more in-depth look at what makes Morocco such a great place as we see the production team scout locations, filming in slums and the challenges faced by the crew, creating a 3rd world market, shooting at the Ministry of Finance and a stadium which doubled as Jordanian location and a U.N. building respectively.

- "Controlled Hostility: Stunts and Special Effects" runs for 14 minutes 33 seconds, this clip takes a look at shooting all the European locations in the script in the United States. This includes blowing up buildings and prepping the stunts and effects for the key complicated scenes in the film that require pyrotechnics and gun fire among other things.

- "Field Operation: Safe House" runs for 8 minutes 6 seconds, here we get a behind-the-scenes look at the shooting of this sequence and the challenges faced by the cast and crew. This includes taking at look at DiCaprio speaking in Arabic and the explosions set off for the scene, blocking the actions and on the physical nature of the scene. We also get a look at the chase that occurs after the safe house which involves shooting to helicopters and the coordination that it required.

- "Field Operation: The Terrible Room" runs for 8 minutes 17 seconds, this is another neat behind-the-scenes look at the filming of a key scene from the film, in this case Ferris' interrogation and the challenges faced. The clip looks at the scheduling, the set design, DiCaprio comments on shooting the scene and on what the character would do in that situation among other things.

- "Author Provocateur: David Ignatius" runs for 7 minutes 53 seconds, finally we get a look at the original source material, the novel by Ignatius and covers his background, his knowledge of CIA operations and on writing the novel and on the cast being interested in the script. This is another decent clip that provides some fascinating information but should have gone first in the order of clips rather than last.

Next up is "Interactive Debriefing" which is an interactive feature, when you access this feature you are taken to an on-screen grid, from it you can select clips that cover various topics. You can view each topic individually or with a 'play all' option and they include interviews with Ridley Scott, Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe as they talk about the story, on collaboration and on intelligence. The total runtime for these clips is 18 minutes 59 seconds.

Following that are the deleted scenes, these can be viewed individually or with a 'play all' option, before the scenes there is an introduction by director Ridley Scott which runs for 1 minute 34 seconds and he shows us through the process of how he structures a film, the scenes also feature optional audio commentary by Ridley Scott. The scenes included are:

- "Bassam's Wife" which runs for 46 seconds, in this scene Ferris wants to help Bassam's wife but she refuses.
- "Christmas Is For Everyone" which runs for 1 minute 37 seconds, in this scene Ferris meets with Hani Salaam and he expresses his sympathies and offers to help Ferris find the people they are looking for.
- "Crossing The Line" which runs for 7 minutes 32 seconds, in this scene Ferris and Aisha spend some time alone together and includes additional scenes of the two which were cut for time.
- "Gel Bridge" which runs for 1 minute 14 seconds, Hoffman gives Ferris a gel bridge, which is a self administered poison in case he's caught.
- "Alternate Ending" which runs for 1 minute 58 seconds, in this scene Hani Salaam meets Ferris in a market and questions him about not working for Hoffman anymore and on what he'll do from now on.

If you have a profile 2.0 player you can access the BD-Live features, connected through your ethernet port you can enter the WB portal and download some trailers, other features will be added in the future.

Rounding out the extras is a digital copy of the film which is accessible online.

Overall

The Film: B- Video: A- Audio: A+ Extras: A Overall: A-

 


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