Body of Lies
Directed By: Ridley Scott
Starring: Russell Crowe, Leonardo Dicaprio, Mark Strong, Golshifteh Farahani, Oscar Isaac, Simon McBurney, Alon Aboutboul
Leonardo DiCaprio plays CIA field operative Roger Ferris, who has seen more than his fair share of action in the Middle East. After a harrowing, mayhem-filled operation in Iraq results in intelligence pointing to a terrorist safe-house in Jordan, Ferris is assigned there by his US-based superior, Ed Hoffman (Crowe). Ferris develops a rapport with Hani (Strong), the head of Jordanian Intelligence, develops a romantic interest in Iranian refugee nurse Aisha (Farahani), but is undermined by the impulsive, impatient, and arrogant Hoffman who directs an operation behind his back that gets Ferris deported. Back in the USA, Ferris and Hoffman conceive of an operation to flush out terrorist leader Al-Saleem (Aboutboul), that involves setting up an innocent businessman named Omar Sadiki (Suliman) as a patsy. Ferris is allowed entry back into Jordan by Hani, but the operation takes an unexpected turn, and Ferris finds himself in imminent danger at a time when he is short on people he can trust.
Ridley Scott's Body of Lies is an enjoyable espionage thriller which rises above the ordinary thanks to its ultra-contemporary setting and strong cast. The fact that it is distinguished largely by its present day relevance may mean it will seem much more ordinary in a decade's time, but I will worry about that when I review the tenth anniversary edition in 2018.
Scott directs with his usual technical assurance, although compared to many of his recent films from Gladiator on forward, he takes a less aggressive approach to his editing. Other than the pre-credits action sequence which features a lot of quick-cut handheld and disorienting fast shutter speed pieces, the film generally allows both action and exposition to play out at a measured pace. This may be somewhat unfashionable in a post-Paul Greengrass "Bourne" sequels world, but I found it to be quite effective. At no point during the course of the film do you get the feeling like Scott and his technical collaborators are trying to convince you that something is more exciting than it actually is. This makes the handful of instances where stylistic flourishes are laid on a bit thick more effective than they would otherwise be.
The strong cast is toplined by Leonardo DiCaprio as the gradually wearying boots on the ground intelligence agent and Russell Crowe as the doughy CIA honcho controlling things remotely in the relative comfort of Washington DC and its suburbs. Scott goes to the well of showing Crowe's character directing operations via his phone earpiece while attending to personal domestic issues a few too many times, but Crowe at least does a good job of not overselling the comic aspects of these sequences. Of the supporting cast, Mark Strong successfully continues his quest to steal nearly every movie released in recent years via Spencer Tracy-style underplaying. He should receive some sort of honorary "Michael Caine" award for cinematic ubiquity. He is quite effective as the suavely confident head of Jordanian Intelligence.
The 2.35:1 16:9-enhanced transfer is generally excellent throughout with no significant signs of digital compression save for a couple of highly detailed shots from the POV of an aerial surveillance camera. It stops short of being perfect only due to some mild edge ringing that turns up sporadically along very high contrast vertical edges. Color and contrast appear spot-on with Scott's intended dusty palette, and detail is outstanding.
The English Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is encoded at a bitrate of 384 kbps. While the track exhibits the expected wide frequency response and dimensionality of a modern action film soundtrack, I was disappointed by what seemed like an excessive amount of dynamic range compression. Other than the low frequency effects, the track did not seem to have much dynamic headroom. This made the explosions and action sequences less impactful than they could have otherwise been. Alternate audio dubs are presented via French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks
Unless one counts the PSAs and promos that confront the viewer when the disc is first inserted into a player, this single disc edition contains no extras whatsoever. The skippable PSAs and promos are presented in 4:3 letterboxed video with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound unless otherwise indicated below:
- Anti-Piracy PSA with scenes from Casablanca (1:01)
- Promo for Warner Blu-Ray Discs (Dolby Digital 5.1 - 1:09)
- DVD/BD Promo for Pride and Glory (:32)
- DVD/BD Promo for RocknRolla (:31)
- Theatrical Trailer for Watchmen (2:20)
- Anti Smoking PSA comparing smokers to lab rats (:35)
The disc comes packaged in a standard Amaray case. Inserts include a sheet with an access code to download a Windows Media compatible digital copy from CinemaNow for a reduced price, and a sheet promoting Warner Blu-Ray discs. The film is also available via a multi-disc DVD with special features and a digital copy compatible with both Mac, iPod, and Windows, but that version was not made available for me to review as of this posting.
Ridley Scott's Body of Lies is a sturdy ultra-contemporary action espionage thriller with a strong cast. It is presented on this single-disc DVD edition with an outstanding video presentation, aggressive but somewhat dynamically compressed audio, and no extras.