"God, I miss the cold war," confesses national security advisor
Jerry Hamilton. Someone has set off an A-bomb in the heart of Russia,
and no one knows why.
Back in the old days, both sides in the arms race stockpiled
nuclear weapons in the world's biggest game of chicken. So long as the
other side wasn't sure that their cache was bigger, they could be
counted on not to fire first. But those cozy days of the great
standoff are gone forever like the five-cent soda pop.
Today, Russia is dismantling her nukes, and THE PEACEMAKER, the
first film, from Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and David
Geffen's new studio, Dreamworks SKG, considers what would happen if
some criminal entrepreneurs stole a batch of nuclear weapons and began
selling them on the black market.
Emmy award winning television director Mimi Leder tries her hand
at her first theatrical movie with powerful success, albeit after an
uneven first half. The second half is consistently thrilling, so don't
give up on it when it bogs down at first.
A group of Russian criminals steal ten atomic bombs from a train
in a daring and well executed piece of cinematic action. They explode
one as a subterfuge and then sneak off with the other nine to make
Back in the U.S., Dr. Julia Kelly, played unconvincingly by Nicole
Kidman, is the acting head of the White House Nuclear Smuggling Group.
Dr. Kelly, who has the fate of millions in her hands, dresses like a
fashion model. Her translucent, silky white blouse is complemented by
a skin-tight mini-skirt. She is permitted to let her shirttail come
out a bit to show that she really does work for a living. All of this
notwithstanding, her casting does add a bit of fun to the film.
To do her dirty work she is assigned an Army intelligence officer
named Colonel Tom DeVoe, played by George Clooney in his best movie
performance to date. Colonel DeVoe operates by schmoozing with his
Russian counterparts, especially General Dimitri Vertikoff, well acted
in all too small a part by Armin Mueller-Stahl. The colonel, however,
is not above James Bond-ish violence when the situation calls for it.
Therein lies the problem in the film's first part. One minute it
wants to be a typically unrealistic James Bond clone, the next a
hyper-accurate Tom Clancy film, and the next a serious meditation on
the troubles in Bosnia. Every time the show gains momentum, the story
switches to a slow moving Bosnian episode. In the best parts, as when
the satellite imagery is used to track the truck with the purloined
bombs, the audience becomes engrossed in the details. Michael
Schiffer's clever script has the colonel calling the truck's cell phone
and telling the driver that a bomb is on the way -- it isn't -- so that
they can see which truck in the long convoy is carrying the bomb. It
is the one making a fast exit.
"I'm not afraid of the man who wants ten nuclear weapons,
Colonel," reflects Dr. Kelly. "I'm terrified of the man who only wants
one." Eventually they get all of the bombs but that one. The film's
second half, set in Manhattan, concerns the tracking down of the last
bomb. By then, Leder has found her footing and the film never again
flags. The audience is on the edge of its seats in the finale as our
two heroes run frantically all over the city trying to find the
villains who have the bomb. And when they do, the script again
surprises by not using the standard cliche of "do we cut the red wire
first or the green."
With a reworked beginning, THE PEACEMAKER could have been an
outstanding picture rather than merely an entertaining one. Even so,
Mimi Leder's first theatrical film is well worth the price of
THE PEACEMAKER runs 2:02. It is rated R for profanity and
violence. The film would be fine for teenagers. I recommend the
picture to you and give it ***.
Copyright © 1997 Steve Rhodes