Directed by Martin Campbell. Starring Angelina Jolie, Clive Owen, Teri Polo, Linus Roache, Noah Emmerich, Yorick Van Wageningen. (2003, R, 127 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 24, 2003
I came out of Beyond Borders with the gnawing feeling I’d just been subjected to some sort of ghastly prank, Punk’d by the director of GoldenEye with Lara Croft as his willing confederate. It was only halfway home that I caught the grim irony that is the film’s nasty, unintentional bonus, and that is this: Beyond Borders goes to great lengths to paint international relief workers in organizations such as Oxfam and CARE as the unsung heroes they indeed are, but it does so in such a way as to exploit the very war-torn hellholes it uses as settings. By the time the closing credits come up, you’re left with the unshakable feeling that things might have been a tad better off if all involved had scrapped this terrible film and instead donated the multimillion-dollar budget to charity. (Warchild.com would be an excellent place to start.) Of course, that’s in addition to the equally uncomfortable feeling that you’ve just blown two hours on an emotionally needy film that keeps reminding you how precious every moment of our short little lives are. Billed as an epic romance that spans both time and territory, Beyond Borders treads the same revolutionary wartime territory as David Lean’s Doctor Zhivago, and sporadically manages to echo Lean’s penchant for sweeping cinematography (here courtesy of Phil Meheux) as it takes in the panoramic vistas of Thailand and Namibia (doubling for Cambodia and Ethiopia), but this love story between a man who can’t love and a woman who can’t help herself is so overwrought, and takes so much time to get going, that it feels as though it’s been knocked on the head by the sash weight of history and is stumbling about concussed and groggy. Jolie plays Sarah Jordan, the American wife of a British society gent (Roache), who becomes enamored of Nick Callahan (Owen), a dashing if prickly physician and aid worker who one evening in 1984 crashes a London charity ball with a starving Ethiopian 10-year-old in tow. His passionate cry for desperately needed relief funds goes unheeded by all but Sarah, who promptly empties her savings account and heads off to find Callahan’s group with a shipment of grain. It’s not exactly love at first sight – at least not for Callahan, who initially views Sarah as just the sort of upper-class girl slumming it in the real world that she appears to be – but over the course of 15 years and several imploding countries, their initial spark flares amid the cordite and landmines. Somewhere along the line Sarah’s marriage goes boom, too, but screenwriter Caspain Tredwell-Owen and director Campbell don’t give it any more attention than she does. Owen gives it his all as the recalcitrant doctor, but Jolie, with her sculpted cheekbones and blindingly white smile, is simply too gorgeous to be wandering around cradling emaciated children to her bosom. When she leaps off a supply truck to drive a vulture away from a starving infant, she does it while wearing what looks to be the height of French couture, and the resulting anachronistic image (her unblemished white outfit billows behind her like one of Trinity’s Matrix outfits) registers nothing, like the film as a whole, other than simple bad taste. Nice sunsets, though.