Warner Bros. // 2008 // 128 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // February 17th, 2009
Trust no one. Deceive everyone.
Thrillers placed in the Middle East are becoming increasingly commonplace as Hollywood filmmakers realize that North American military troops aren't going to be clear from the area for a very long time. This is not a bad thing, necessarily, especially in the case of Body of Lies, which is one of the best of the lot. Despite a slightly lame ending, this truly is an action thriller about smart people: a rare treasure in the genre.
Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio, Blood Diamond) is a CIA agent who is fluent in Arabic and has a knack for getting himself in and out of troubled situations in the Middle East. After a disappointing incident, he is pulled by operational guru Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe, American Gangster), who pulls all the strings for the agency's operations but doesn't spend any time on the ground. As the CIA rushes to capture the leader of a cell that has been bombing cities in Europe, Ferris finds himself wedged between Hoffman and Jordanian agent Hani (Mark Strong, RocknRolla). Ferris can't truly trust either of these men, but he must rely on them both to survive.
I might as well get one thing out of the way immediately: this is not a top-notch film for Ridley Scott (Kingdom of Heaven). He has always had a tendency to follow political hot topics, and this time it prevents him from making the kind of masterpiece he has sometimes delivered in the past. This is not intended to be a great film, completely happy to arrive as a convoluted but straightforward political action-thriller.
Thankfully, it's a good one. Several critics have compared Body of Lies to Eagle Eye, and the comparison has some merit. Both are thrillers that focus on terrorism and the concept that we can never really hide from cameras. Somehow, the surveillance theme of Body of Lies is a lot more plausible, in the shape of one huge eye that allows Hoffman to closely control his operations from a room with a giant television, or from home, or at the sidelines of his kids' soccer games. While Crowe doesn't do anything special with this role, his portrayal of the overweight pencil pusher is an important part of the equation, and fits perfectly into the story.
In fact, all of the characters in the film are intelligent. In too many thrillers, idiotic characters stumble through the plot, doing little more than behaving as a proxy for our own confusion. Here, each one of the main characters is intelligent, behaving in unexpected ways and driving the plot through decisions, not a telegraphed set of action set pieces. DiCaprio puts in another excellent turn as Ferris, a character that could be a super spy in any other film. Here, he is a good agent caught in a bad situation, left to struggle with orders and his own conscience. Hani is also a fascinating character, and portrayed brilliantly by Mark Strong.
This is definitely a thriller for political junkies, not action fans. Anyone expecting the intensity of Scott's Black Hawk Down will likely be bored and confused here. The action sequences are exceptional, but they aren't the focus of Body of Lies, and there are few of them. Still, for those who have the patience and the willingness to pay close attention to films will find a depth and moral complexity here that has been sorely lacking in recent similar outings, such as The Kingdom. The terrorists are the bad guys, yes, but the film is willing to question what lengths we are willing to travel to change the situation in the Middle East, should that even be possible.
Not too surprisingly, the Blu-ray release of the film is top-notch. Scott remains a highly visual director, and his vision has arrived in a great 1080p video transfer. Every location in the film has a completely different look, and this transfer captures every single one of them perfectly. Details are sharp, colors are excellent, black levels are spot-on, and I noticed no digital flaws at any point in the film. The sound is also excellent, immersing the viewer in a Dolby TrueHD track, while never drawing undue attention to itself. My only complaint here is that the LFE channel could have had a little more punch. After explosions in films like Munich, several moments here should have made the walls shudder, and that didn't happen.
In terms of special features, Body of Lies really showcases the structure of the Blu-ray system. While everything here is what we're used to seeing, they are laid out really nicely, and all delivered in high definition. There's a commentary track, as well as a number of interviews and production featurettes. The big difference here is that the structure of the interviews are delivered with an easily navigated menu system, so we are free to pick and choose what we actually want to hear about. There are a number of deleted scenes as well, also delivered in full high def. I was unable to access the Blu-ray live content, and there is also a digital copy of the film for your iPod, should that be a draw. There's little here that we don't already get on DVD, but the flexibility of the Blu-ray system is really starting to hint what the format will be capable of accomplishing in a few years.
I do have to make several complaints about the film. For one thing, every character has a critical weakness. The whole film becomes about characters who search for and exploit these weaknesses in creative ways. Alas, Ferris's weakness is too simple. The love affair with Aisha is boring, strained, and seemingly wedged into the screenplay for only two reasons: to give Ferris a weakness and to include a female character who gets to say something.
The ending is also a disappointment, if only because of the quality of what has come before. I didn't particularly mind the Deus Ex Machina here, since that's such a common element of the genre, but it felt like the ending should have included something bigger, something better, something that would fully punctuate the richness of the situation. Instead, we get a predictable little twist that was given away in a fairly obvious way. It doesn't ruin the film, but it could have come together better.
Body of Lies is one of the most engaging and satisfying thrillers I've seen in quite a while. It's not my favorite Ridley Scott film by a long shot, but it's well worth checking out. It's also a fine Blu-ray release.
Review content copyright © 2009 Joel Pearce; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 128 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes
* Digital Copy
* Official Site