Monday, February 23, 2009

Blu-ray Review: Body of Lies

In this day and age, it is hard to find a film about war, be it a real one or a covert one, without finding that it leans one way or the other on the issues. If you are talking about a real war situation, it is even harder to create that film without your bias showing. Many director's, and script writers, have attempted to do this with a whole slew of movies, and only a few have succeeded. Director Ridley Scott (of Blade Runner fame) and writer William Monahan (writer of The Departed, another DiCaprio movie) hide their biases extremely well. Though they show up occasionally, Body of Lies is clear of most political and cultural biases, which is a good thing in a movie.

Body of Lies tells the story of Roger Ferris (Leo DiCaprio), a divorcing undercover agent who is stationed in various states across the Middle East. Roger tours the Middle East on CIA assignment to take out terrorist bad guys. Basically, he is the CIA's covert agent and gets to kill a whole bunch of people while looking quite bad ass in the process; who doesn't want this role? He is one of the smarter people you will be meeting in the movie, and he has a very unique outlook and take on the culture that he is immersed in. Additionally, his gut is usually right on and he is often ready to do what his country needs him to do. Think of him as Bond, except cooler, and American.

Roger has a hotheaded, culturally insensitive, and downright odd boss, Ed Hoffman (Russel Crowe). In normal Croweian manner, Ed is blunt and forceful, but intelligent at the same time. Ed is a family man, lives in DC, and is always at his kids events when he is planning destruction of the Middle East. In fact, he seems so out of place that the viewer is left wondering how he ever advanced in the field without doing anything. He has the same brain as Roger, but he thinks that shock and awe is a great tactic. The interplay between these two serves as a debate over which tactic is better in the military: that with blunt force or that which literally gets only your target. Frankly, the acting from both Crowe and DiCaprio during this interplay is so well done that the viewer actually gets into the debate.

Though it seems as if the two-man power struggle over their methods is the main debate in Body of Lies, a smaller debate is brought out by the third main character. Mark Strong plays Hani, the chief of Jordan's intelligence service. He is a man who is tired of the world, tired of politics, and just wants to go home. But he understands international politics, especially those with the US, and he cares only for his country. Thus, he is forced into the movie to deal with the CIA and their puppets. Hani serves the role of fostering a debate about American action; Roger will promise him something, and Ed will ignore that promise. In this small debate, Body of Lies is getting us to understand and look at how American's conduct our international politics. Monahan and Scott are trying to get us to discuss, and think about, how we promise one thing, but often do the other.

Though there are some missed opportunities for other debates, or for more character interactions, Body of Lies pulls off its mission flawlessly. The movie gets the dramatic interplays down perfectly and leaved the viewer thinking about exactly what should happen and how our country should, or should not, change. This sort of result from a movie is what you want to see in good work, and it is quite evident here. I would recommend Body of Lies to any student of international politics, as it is a good examination at the real interplays that occur. For everybody else, a fast paced action movie is always a good watch.

Body of Lies has one other little touch that makes the movie stand out from the stereotypical genre it is in: the coloring levels. Though I first noticed this in The Matrix, where the coloring levels were more green when you were inside the simulation, it is obviously noticeable when you are watching Body of Lies. When Roger is in the Middle East, and we are in an action scene, the imagery becomes much more vivid, much brighter, and much more intense. When we see Ed at his kid's soccer games, back in the US, the color becomes blue-tinted, and everything fades a bit. Though this seemed like a camera problem at first, I quickly noticed that it was intentional and was being used to reflect the feelings of the actors at that given moment. This use of color, to control your own mood while watching, is done quite well. It deserves this moment of acknowledgment as it really does draw you more into the characters.

Speaking of how Body of Lies looks, let's move onto the technical aspects of this blu-ray release. Body of Lies is presented in your typical 2.4:1 wide screen aspect ratio. The imagery is captured well on the disc and makes it look better then the original theater version. There is no ghosting during the movie, and all of the scenes look as they should. The black levels were full and dark, and all there was plenty of contrast. The entire movie was crisp and rendered well.

The actual visuals of the movie were stunning. From the dirt being kicked up by the jeep, to the hair on DiCaprio's head, everything was visible in full resolution. Throughout the movie, the detail that is added catches you off guard. You can read the screens of the laptops and see all of the small hairs sticking out of Crowe's face. The details and clarity of the film are impeccable. The movie also adds a sense of depth to it (see the helicopter scene), using the coloring and the blu-ray quality to seemingly have the objects on screen jump out at you, or immerse you even more. I was wowed by the quality of imagery presented to me, and I think that all but the most videophile of you out there will be wowed as well.

Body of Lies soundtrack is presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround sound. The overall quality of the sound is suburb and the mixing is just as good. My favorite part was that the explosions sounded realistic, and were properly adjusted compared to the other noises throughout the movie. It always annoys me when an explosion is only two times the sound of a car driving, and Body of Lies made sure that I wouldn't be annoyed by their explosions. My only real complaint in the sound department is that the dialog does get lost during the fast paced scenes. This makes it harder to follow. While this may just be because they used realistic levels, it actually harms the movie slightly.

Body of Lies on blu-ray comes with the usual cast of extras. It has the director's commentary, where Scott, Monahan, and the novel's writer, David Ignatus, discuss the book and the adaptation. It has Interactive Debriefing, which is basically just a grouping of clips from Crowe and DiCaprio talking about their roles, how they worked, and the like. There are four deleted scenes, which would not have added much, and an alternate ending, which I think was arguably better then the one included in the movie. There is the BD-live extra and a digital copy for you to have on your iPhone or laptop.

There is one more extra, which happens to be my favorite, in Body of Lies; Deconstructing Body of Lies is a nine-part featurette that takes you even further into the movie's story. Running a full 90 minutes, this series is the length of most movies, which makes it tedious, but also very informational. This extra looks at various character relationships, the costuming, the interplays, the sets, and the rest. It is a compilation of the usual featurettes from other movies, but it is all interlaced well and given to you as one long extra. Frankly, I really like this setup and think that anybody who enjoyed Body of Lies will also like this feature.

Overall, I feel that Body of Lies is a great movie to add to your blu-ray collection. The movie is a surefire way to get you and your family/friends to think about the issues facing America overseas, think about how we act, and think about what you want your country to do. This movie is a discussion maker, and you should use it as one. I recommend Body of Lies to anybody who is a student of political science, international relations, or anybody who just wants to learn more about American interplay in the Middle East. If you have the choice, the quality of the movie makes it worthwhile to grab on blu-ray over standard DVD.

Movie: The movie is flawless and well done, it is only missing a few opportunities
Blu-ray Quality: Stunning, simply stunning
Sound Quality: Great balancing and mixing, superb quality, occasionally looses the dialog
Extras: Typical extras, but Decontructing Body of Lies is great
Overall: Great movie for students, teachers, and anybody who is interested in American Foreign Policy.

Body of Lies is rated R for strong violence, including some torture, and for language throughout.

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