An often compelling look at the work of modern day spies, Ridley Scott's "Body of Lies" comes several years after brother Tony's "Spy Game", and while the two films share the common bond of an older mentor supporting a younger agent, the similarities end there. The picture (based upon the 2007 novel by David Ignatius) is gritty, bleak and - at least more often than not - unflinching in its look at spy games, technology, the Middle East and more.
The picture stars Leonardo Dicaprio as Roger Ferris, an agent working for the CIA in the Middle East. Able to speak Arabic and blend in, Ferris is faced with the task of infiltrating a terrorist organization lead by Al-Saleem (Alon Aboutboul). Meanwhile, back in the US, a CIA handler named Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe, looking to have gained more than a few pounds for the role) moves Roger throughout the Middle East like a pawn in a political chess game, talking to Ferris about the next move to make, even when picking up his kids at school.
As the film proceeds, it becomes evident that those in power back in Washington - many of whom watch the events unfold via aerial camera footage on giant TVs - not only aren't operating on anyone's interests but their own, but don't have the knowledge of what's going on on the ground to truly make a difference with their actions. Despite all the technology and communications tools, the plans of those on the ground in the middle of it still often go against the wishes of those in a high-tech control room somewhere - and high-stakes decisions that effect both need to be made at an instant.
One of the most successful elements of the film is the way that Scott manages to play up the fact that Ferris, when it comes down to it, truly can't trust anyone. Somewhat less effective is a romance between Ferris and a local nurse (Golshifteh Farahani); while the two share a nice chemistry and their scenes are fine, at 128 minutes, the film could have picked up the pace a bit by leaving a few elements (such as this) out.
While the picture is a bit on the long side and some of its messages not new (although the film is more intelligent than some of the other, similar pictures lately), "Body of Lies" does once again see Scott craft a technically stunning film, thanks to assistance from members of his usual crew, including production designer Arthur Max, editor Pietro Scalia, cinematographer Alexander Witt and art director Marco Trentini. The performances are also solid, especially Dicaprio and Mark Strong (who plays an official from Jordan.) Crowe isn't seen in that much of the film, but makes an impression in his handful of moments.
While "Body of Lies" offers fine performances, superb technical work, an interesting script and other positives, there's a few about the film that just keeps it from entirely achieving its potential, such as an ending that doesn't manage the impact that the rest of the movie has. Still, this is worth a view.
VIDEO: "Body of Lies" is given a terrific 2.35:1 (1080p/VC-1) presentation by Warner Brothers. The big-budget thriller may not be as slick as Scott's other recent films, but it's still a visually bold, superbly crafted picture that looks terrific in high-def. Sharpness and detail are marvelous, as the picture remains consistently sharp, clean and clear. Fine details, such as hairs and other minor details, are usually crystal clear. Aside from a few minor instances of edge enhancement, the picture remained smooth and flawless - no print flaws, noise or additional concerns were spotted. Colors looked subdued by intent, but appeared spot-on.
SOUND: The film is presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1. While the surrounds kick in aggressively during the most intense sequences to deliver discrete effects, ambience and other elements (such as reinforcement of the music), a good portion of the movie is dialogue-driven. Audio quality was fine, with crisp dialogue and no distortion or other concerns.
EXTRAS: Director Ridley Scott, writer David Ignatius and screenwriter William Monahan The commentary is a little on the dry side, but remains richly informative throughout the proceedings, with all three offering insights on such topics as filming in Morocco, compressing the book for the screen, the research on the situation that Ignatius did as a reporter, working with the actors and more.
"Actionable Intelligence" is a set of "focus points" that come up throughout the movie. If this optional feature is engaged, viewers can click when an icon appears, and then they are taken to a featurette offering more details about a particular scene. The lengthy featurettes cover a wide variety of subjects, from special effects to filming in Morocco to development. "Interactive Debriefing" is a set of interviews, and we also get 5 deleted scenes with an introduction from Scott. Finally, we get a digital copy of the film on a separate disc.
Final Thoughts: While "Body of Lies" has a few issues that keep it from being all that it can be, the strong performances, enjoyable direction and solid technical work make it worth a look. The Blu-Ray offers excellent audio/video quality, as well as a solid group of supplements.
The Film B