1992 Directed by Stephen Wallace. Starring Greta Scacchi, Joan Chen, Jack Thompson, Art Malik, Norman Kaye.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., May 8, 1992
Apparently, there's nothing that can bring two disparate women closer than their shared guilt about being bad mothers. But, at least, it's nothing that a little good, old-fashioned self-sacrifice can't cure (you know, the kind where mom trades her life to spare the lives of her kids). Really, this film is not quite as dismal or atavistic as these remarks make it sound. In fact, it's actually quite interesting and faceted, if only in a muddled sort of way. In this Australian film, Scacchi (The Player, Presumed Innocent) plays a journalist in the 1970s with particular expertise in the Malaysian upheaval of the period. Chen (Twin Peaks), a former Vietnamese B-girl, fled the country after the fall of Saigon. When the movie begins, she is married to Australia's ambassador to Malaysia and heads a Vietnamese refugee relief committee. Hardened and extremely cynical, Chen is something of a cipher with her noble title acquired through marriage, her ignoble past, her charitable works and her deft maneuvering through all segments of society. Scacchi uses Chen to gain access to the off-limits refugee camps and obtain the story she came to Malaysia to write. In turn, Chen induces Scacchi to perform a very daring and dangerous favor, one that makes all Chen's post-war actions and strategies make sense. The story of these two women gets caught up in the fervor and commotion of the milieu and much of the early part of the movie is spent trying to figure out just who is who and what is what. While at times it resembles other “journalist adrift in a sea of revolution” movies like Under Fire or Salvador, it strikes me in retrospect that Turtle Beach needn't have been as obtuse as it appeared at times. It all sorted itself out into a reasonable order before it was through and it seems that the byways were unnecessary diversions and attempts to add flavor and intrigue. For example, in the film's opening sequence, Scacchi witnesses a beheading that occurs during the fever of a street riot. Now, I would argue that you can't put something as shocking and riveting as a decapitation in an opening sequence without the rest of the movie's impact suffering by comparison. Call me conventional. Despite these material shortcomings, Turtle Beach has an intriguing story to tell and two compelling female protagonists.