DVD Review: Body of Lies (2008) -- Single Disc Widescreen Edition

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"Information is the bottom line, and the subtext of that could be that you cannot trust anyone, not even your best friend. Turn your back for a second and you will be used. And if you are running an organization that is important to national security, without that attitude you will be weaker and vulnerable. That's the job."
-- Ridley Scott
Body of Lies Official Production Notes

The words weak and vulnerable aren't in director Ridley Scott's vocabulary. One of this generation's most masterful directors and the man behind such groundbreaking films as Alien, Blade Runner, Thelma & Louise, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, Kingdom of Heaven, and American Gangster
as well as the understated but no less fascinating White Squall, G.I. Jane, Black Rain, Matchstick Men and countless others-- one often forgets just how diverse he can be, moving effortlessly from the mesmerizing set pieces and extraordinary visuals of Gladiator to the more intimate character driven work found in Thelma & Louise or Matchstick Men.

Able to simultaneously engage us in the internal aspects of a character under the most intense of situations-- it's this particular strength that makes his most recent film-- Body of Lies such a highly intelligent yet nerve-wracking experience. A rare film that respects the audience Scott wants to lose in the sweeping scope of his orchestrated shots by making us never forget that despite the breakneck pace that he prefers since to Scott moving "as fast as possible... [is] when you feel you're really alive," there's a major tale of morality and intrigue unfolding before our eyes.

Employing his trademark "four to eight cameras per setup," as the Lies production notes reveal, gives Scott the unparalleled opportunity to keep moving, filming three hundred and sixty degrees of an entire situation so that he needs minimal takes to get things right as actor Leonardo DiCaprio marvels, he'll direct the movements of helicopters and camera-men synchronizing explosions and angles via his walkie talkie, "watching all the different monitors, cutting in his head as he goes."

Further stressing that in his view, Ridley Scott "has a channel into the eyes of the viewer," which makes him "so good at what he does" in seeing "the big picture" while filming is going on-- while the humble DiCaprio may give most of the credit to the lauded award-winning director he was eager to work with for the first time-- Scott's ability to get the very best for Lies was equally reliant on the fine-tuned portrayal of his two leads including not just DiCaprio but his frequent collaborator, Russell Crowe.

Although it turns out the film was a reunion on another level as Crowe and DiCaprio had worked together more than a decade ago on Sam Raimi's The Quick and the Dead before they each became two of the most sought after actors in contemporary filmmaking. And while Crowe had the advantage of a veritable shorthand of direction with Scott who has directed him a handful of times, DiCaprio had the intuitive storytelling advantage of working again with his Oscar winning The Departed screenwriter William Monahan, who penned his second work for Scott following Kingdom of Heaven.

Caught in a complicated and timely web of CIA anti-terror efforts-- DiCaprio plays the undercover agent Roger Ferris-- a multi-talented field man who uses his natural ability to gain insight and get into all the right circles by speaking numerous Arabic dialects to try and bring down one of the most dangerous terrorist heads in Jordan.

Ferris is torn between the ruthless tactics of his CIA superior Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe) who-- necessarily detached and thousands of miles away in the United States calls the shots at a level Crowe likens to "being able to see seven different chessboards situated on seven different planes, and manipulating all those multiples of seven simultaneously," and the more reserved yet effective head of the Jordanian General Intelligence Department (GID), Hani Salaam (Mark Strong).

While Hani-- as Strong describes-- "prides himself on being able to achieve things in a much more delicate, less obvious way than Hoffman," since "his methods consist very much of not rattling the cage, but gently reeling in the fish," Hoffman warns Ferris not to trust his Jordanian contact or anyone he meets.

The adaptation of the novel by former Wall Street Journal and Washington Post journalist David Ignatius "who covered the CIA and Middle Eastern affairs for ten years," was first read in book galley form by Ridley Scott. And it's because of its strong source work that the film works incredibly well due to its authenticity that rings true throughout in dealing with all sides of the conflict as-- much like Monahan's script for The Departed-- it excels at what DiCaprio argues is his instinctive ability to work "with information and disinformation, and cat-and-mouse dilemmas between characters."

Yet another one of those shamefully overlooked 2008 films from Warner Brothers (along with Pride and Glory, RocknRolla, Towelhead, Kit Kittredge - An American Girl, Appaloosa, and several others)-- Lies didn't draw in the numbers one would expect due to the names attached perhaps because in addition to the fact that it was a slow box office time-- films about the Middle East have repeatedly failed to strike a chord with the audience.

Part of the problem could be since it is so topical yet there's much to learn as DiCaprio notes that while filming Lies, "we became more and more fascinated with how an organization like this operates against an enemy that is extremely difficult to find in a world so unfamiliar to them." And unlike simply the hyper cuts of the nonetheless extraordinary The Bourne Trilogy-- Body of Lies specializes in the gray area between right and wrong as Ferris becomes emotionally involved in the lives of those with whom he comes into contact.

Although most of the criticism centered on Crowe's less than authentic Southern accent which I was fine with-- feeling it fit his character as being a hybrid of genuine Southern and the same type of traditional soldier accent that military men and women (including some of my relatives) have developed following their work--but in my eyes, the one major plot problem featured the would-be romance for DiCaprio's Ferris.

Quite similar to Monahan's role for Vera Farmiga in The Departed--while it fulfills the need for Body of Lies in offering the requisite role for a female lead, it's one that doesn't seem the least bit plausible given DiCaprio's occupation that he could be that naive as to jeopardize a civilian while pursuing her at the same time he's trying to bring down Jordan's version of Bin Laden.

Still, despite this, it's a far superior work to the preachy Don Cheadle vehicle Traitor which you were able to predict within seconds as Lies is incredibly complicated and will possibly require a second viewing just to catch all of the intricate twists and turns and the way that our first impressions of a character evolve throughout the film.

A riveting and solid work that's among the best action based entries of 2008 and one that is more effective than the overly long American Gangster-- hopefully Ridley Scott's tense spy film (which-- much like his produced TNT miniseries The Company delved into a wonderful study of the CIA and the remarkably important part they play in global safety) will garner the audience it should have with its stellar release on DVD and Blu-ray.

Sent the single disc widescreen edition of the title by the kind folks at Warner Brothers-- I'm sorry to report that although I can't judge any of the extras or the Blu-ray quality of other editions, this disc does come with the sole extra feature of a digital download of the film exclusively for PC computers (as it's incompatible with Apple devices) that helps you increase the life of your DVD by boasting a second copy of the film and Lies itself is highly recommended in any form.

Ridley Scott

Leonardo DiCaprio

Russell Crowe