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Beyond Borders

movie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Beyond Borders

Starring: Angelina Jolie, Clive Owen
Director: Martin Campbell
Rated: R
RunTime: 127 Minutes
Release Date: October 2003
Genres: Drama, War, Romance

*Also starring: Linus Roache, Teri Polo, Yorick van Wageningen, Norman Mikeal Berketa, Noah Emmerich, Jasmin Geljo, Mark Antony Krupa, Emma Stevens

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Harvey Karten review follows movie reviewvideo review
2.  Steve Rhodes read the review movie reviewvideo review

Review by Harvey Karten
1½ stars out of 4

In a more idealistic clime than we in America face today, I had my heart set on joining the Peace Corps going into parts of the world that did not have the advantages that we take for granted in the U.S.A., teaching English as a foreign language (in my case), while serving realpolitik interests of our country by making people in the Third World love us. While a career in the New York City school system put me back into reality, and rationalizing that I'm helping less fortunate people in the Big Apple, Peace Corps dreams dissipated. Now, only a handful of volunteers to that noble organization, which drew a lot of good press during JFK's administration but is scarcely mentioned today, have been harmed. Volunteers from the West who go to poor nations, Fourth World, if you will, to administer medical aid and distribute food are in a far more precarious situation that Peace Corpsman. Often, residents of these areas are not only starving and dying of diarrhea, typhus and pneumonia but find themselves in lands overrun by opposing armies in civil warfare.

The places administered to by the principals in the film helmed by Martin Campbell ("Vertical Limit," "GoldenEye") are plagued with a plethora of handicaps. When they're in Ethiopia, they're short of supplies because some Western countries (read: the U.S.) refuse to administer succor at the time that the East African nation is under Communist rule. They're in Cambodia at a time that Khmer Rouge guerrilla fighters are liquidating the intellectuals of their own country (for more on this, rent Roland Joffe's "The Killing Fields," about a N.Y. Times reporter who remained in Cambodia after American evaluation) while fighting off an invasion of Vietnamese Communists. Their stay in Chechnya puts them in at least equal danger, given the uprising of militants seeking independence from the Russian government. Director Campbell takes us to places that mirror the conditions during the time span of the film, 1984-1995: to Montreal standing in for London; to Eastern Canada for Chechnya; to rural Thailand and Bangkok substituting for Cambodia, and to the desert sands of Namibia to represent Ethiopia.

"Beyond Borders" attempts to enlighten and entertain us in least two ways. One is as travelogue, avoiding the sterile movies taken by tourist boards by introducing explosions, machine guns, a hand grenade and an exploding land mine; the other is as romance, one between two relief workers, Dr. Nick Callahan (Clive Owen) and Sarah Jordan (Angelina Jolie). Quite a bit of good came out of the project, specifically in getting Ms. Jolie to take an interest in the world outside Hollywood where she became a Goodwill Ambassador for the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) two years ago, visited a camp in Namibia set up for refugees from Angola, and posted journals on the website of UNHCR at The other bit of good is that the film production company left behind valuable stuff for the communities they photographed office furniture, generators, tents and the like.

The film falls short however, in both areas: for entertainment we see Ms. Jolie looking, mugging for the camera, and performing as though she were a blow-dried TV newscaster. Wherever she goes, not a hair on her head falls out of place nor does she get any dirt on her mostly white clothing. Her romance with the strikingly handsome and manly Dr. Callahan (whom you'll recognize from his role as the title figure in "The Croupier"), comes out of the blue without appropriate exposition. Callahan simply grabs Sarah and kisses her, they fall into bed, and from then on we hear Callhan express such endearments as how he can never get his mind off her though he adds that he thinks she should go home to her wan husband, Henry Bauford (Linus Roache) and her two children all of whom are neglected by this feminine prisoner of naive idealism.

Moreover by spreading the relief work over three distinct areas one parched by the sun, the other a victim of wind and show, while the third is inhabited by stereotypical Asian people moving their cattle along the road and riding bikes writer Caspian Tredwell-Owen is so all-over-the-place that we are just getting into the spirit of one area when the project presumably ends and our principals are elsewhere.

Doctors Without Borders, which appears to be the kind of relief organization illustrated herein, simply does not exist as a James Bond one-crisis-after-another phenomenon. Do doctors such as Callahan regularly bribe the various armies to get their medicine through to the people, and are their lives in constant danger whether in Cambodia, Ethiopia or Chechnya? For those in the audience who are not that familiar with the crises, do we get enough information on the roots of the chaos? Not when we're in all these areas, including London (Montreal standing in), are sandwiched into a couple of hours making for a superficial treatment indeed; one which is wholly without humor or chemistry between Callahan and Sarah or a credible explanation of Sarah's deserting her husband and her kids, except for one thing: Is it really better to go to these charity balls where a rock singer yells "Should I Stay or Should I Go" with considerably less variation than the Schumann work played by Sarah in her luxurious London digs, and the typical life of the rich involves spending hours in art galleries listening to stuffy lectures on meaningless abstract paintings?

Copyright 2003 Harvey Karten

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