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Body of Lies

(2008) ** 1/2 R
129 min. Warner Brothers. Director: Ridley Scott. Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Mark Strong.

/content/films/3236/3.jpgBody of Lies is pretty much exactly what you would expect of an international espionage thriller directed by Ridley Scott and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe. It’s made with skill all around, and yet it lacks any spark of brilliance. Of the many post-9/11 thrillers, this story of a lone wolf CIA operative in the Middle East and his unfeeling handler back in the States comes closest to being a traditional war movie for the untraditional “war on terror.”

DiCaprio plays Roger Ferris, a perpetually ticked-off CIA agent entrenched in the field. It's not just a martyr complex: Ferris has taken the time to learn Arabic, he knows the lay of the land, and he has a knack for troubleshooting on a personal level. Back in the control rooms of Langley, technocrat Ed Hoffman (Crowe) ignores Ferris' advice and blithely hands down orders. The suits don't get that all the cell phones and satellite imaging in the world (though they make it a small world, after all) won't stop radical terrorists from doing an end run around technology, with, say, a personal handoff of intel. To the cold, callous Hoffman, these are games, and if he keeps his overseers believing he's essential to stay in them, he's won. To Ferris, these are dangerous games, with the lives of innocents at stake.

With terrorist mastermind Al-Saleem (Alon Aboutboul) as the target, Ferris offers Hoffman a plan: work with Jordanian intelligence chief Hani Salaam (Mark Strong) to flush out Al-Saleem with phony intelligence. Though he calls Ferris "my dear," the urbane Salaam has understandable trust issues with U.S. intelligence agents—issues that Ferris will be forced to test further. As Salaam puts it, "Real intelligence operations remain a secret forever. You Americans are incapable of keeping a secret because you are a democracy." Meanwhile, Ferris puts the moves on a Muslim nurse Aisha (Golshifteh Farahani) who he meets not-so-cute after being injured on the job.

We’ve seen many of these elements before, particularly in the Tom Clancy-derived movies, but William Monahan’s script and Scott’s budget allow for big action setpieces—small-scale battles, "surgical" bombings, and armed raids (all with shattering explosions)—as well as the requisite moral quandaries about just what we think we’re doing in the Middle East, and why. In the end, Body of Lies washes away without leaving much of a lasting impression, but if you’re going to have a mall-ready entertainment about the war on terror, you might as well have this one, which has the wit to show Crowe making life-and-death national security decisions from the sidelines of his daughter’s soccer game.

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Aspect ratios: 2.4:1

Number of discs: 2

Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1

Street date: 2/17/2009

Distributor: Warner Home Video

Warner's tremendously in-depth special edition of Body of Lies begins with a fine A/V presentation. Accurately recreating the film's theatrical look, the picture is nicely detailed and finely tuned to Scott's post-production-tweaked color schemes; black level is rock solid, and there's no sign of distracting dirt, though edge enhancement is evident throughout. A powerful Dolby TrueHD 5.1 will rock your living room with the frequent action sequences; dialogue thankfully is never sacrificed in the mix.

First up among the bonus features is a serious-minded commentary by director Ridley Scott, screenwriter William Monahan and author David Ignatius. It's a stolid effort with lots of interesting details about the production and Ignatius' sociopolitical insights.

Actionable Intelligence: Deconstructing Body of Lies is a staggeringly thorough documentary split into nine Focus Points (totalling 1:19:26, HD) accessible either by a pop-up icon during playback or from the menu. They include "Uneasy Alliance: Ferris and Hoffman," "Foreign Relations: Ferris & Aisha," "The Color of Toast: Costume and Production Design," "Master of the Craft: Ridley Scott," "Safe Haven: Morocco," "Controlled Hostility: Stunts and Special Effects," "Field Operation: Safe House," "Field Operation: The Terrible Room," and "Author Provocateur: David Ignatius." We get all-access behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with Scott, Leonardo DiCaprio, Ignatius, Mark Strong, Golshifteh Farahani, Ali Suliman, Alon Aboutboul, production designer Arthur Max, set designer Sonja Klaus, costume designer Janty Yates, Huntsman manager Johnny Allen, location manager Christian McWilliams, stunt coordinator George Aguilar, special effects supervisor Charles Corbould, aerial coordinator Marc Wolff, Middle East technical advisor/consultant Sam Sako, producer Donald DeLine, and executive producer Charles J.D. Schlissel.

Interactive Debriefing offers focused interviews with Scott, DiCaprio and Crowe on Story, Collaboration and Intelligence. A special menu allows the viewer to select which segments to watch, or take the "Play All" option.

Lastly, "Deleted Scenes" (14:43 with "Play All" option, HD) come with optional commentary by Scott, a video introduction by Scott and an alternate ending. Here's one seriously value-packed Blu-ray for Ridley Scott aficionados.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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