' ' Cinema Romantico: Some Drivel On...The Peacemaker

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Some Drivel On...The Peacemaker

“The Peacemaker” was the inaugural release of DreamWorks Studios, the brainchild of heavy entertainment hitters David Geffen, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Steven Spielberg, which was mandatory to mention in a 1997 review, a binding critic contract we will honor in 2020 too. But perhaps being the first film out of that much-hyped stable was why they took a classic Everything and the Kitchen Sink Approach, dabbling in stolen nuclear warheads, massive New York City traffic jams, and a car chase through the Vienna streets, all serviceable though never striking, a stew of spare parts. The director was Mimi Leder, her first big screen outing, which in many ways was as admirable as it must have unanticipated, DreamWorks giving the keys to first production to a woman, in 1997, when women had it even worse in Hollywood than they do now. She came up through television, notably “ER”, and much of “The Peacemaker” feels akin to an episode of “ER”, a constant roving camera and frequent long takes, all of which feel apiece of the globe-trotting nature of the film, hopping from the U.S. to Asia and back, but the plot churns so relentlessly that its ostensible real-world implications fail to take hold and the two stars, Nicole Kidman and George Clooney, are hung out to dry, given so little space to perform, aside from a few promising scenes at the beginning, that they never catch fire. 

As the film opens, ten Russian nuclear warheads are being carried by train from a missile base to a dismantling site only to be hijacked midway through by a Russian turncoat, who takes nine for himself and leaves one behind to blow, a blast conveyed to us from the perspective of an old married couple we have only just met getting incinerated by the blast, not a human touch, reducing them to physical props to demonstrate the colossal blast zone. The turncoat, though, is just a feint for the real baddie, Dušan Gavrić (Marcel Iures), “a Serb, a Croat, a Muslim”, a piano teacher disgruntled not so much with the ongoing Yugoslav Wars as outsiders sticking their noses into this war, like Exceptionalist Americans, self-professed peacekeepers whom he aims to put in their place by detonating one of the warheads outside the NYC U.N. It’s a solid set-up, culled from a book by Andrew Cockburn and Leslie Redlich Cockburn, that adds little dimension to Gavrić’s plight, essentially just using his political statement as a thriller device, all leading to that countdown clock on a nuclear bomb that not only makes the Americans the heroes, spitting in its supposedly sympathetic villain’s eye.

It also has the Americans fall in love along the way. Well, they are supposed to have fallen in love, given the film’s final scene. And so here, faithful readers, is where we really get to the grits of the review, the reason why I am writing about a 23 year old movie that left little impact either in terms of box office or critical appeal. And that, of course, is because of its stars. Kidman is Dr. Julia Kelly, the White House’s top nuclear specialist, and Clooney is Lt. Col. Tom DeVoe, emerging as her military liaison when she is called upon to suss out what this nuclear blast means and what they should do about it. Kidman’s Aussie accent occasionally spills out when her voice rises but who cares? Why did I even mention that? She believably evinces on-the-job stress, like the conclusion. Maybe red digital readout on the bomb is cliche, as Ebert noted in his assessment, but the way Kidman has Julia master her panic to get down to brass tacks and solve this momentous problem comes across compellingly entertaining. This was pre-“Out of Sight” Clooney, of course, before Soderbergh help cure him of the head-down/eyes-up style upon which he leaned so heavily, but that roguish charm can still be glimpsed, not just in his overconfident smile but in the way he kind of shakes out his shoulders over and over, a below the neck extension of that overconfident smile. (Perhaps Clooney’s rudimentary black polo and khakis are true to military liaisons but, whatever, this is a movie, son, and he always looks better in a suit, whether rumpled or finely pressed.)

Kelly and DeVoe are set up, as they should be, as opposites waiting to attract, with Kidman introduced in a scrum of men, telling them all what to do, and Clooney found giving testimony to a Congresswoman about some undercover black market deal gone wrong culminating in a bar fight. At this point, I was, like, “Yeah, let’s do this!” Alas, if their first few scenes together, especially their Meet Cute, where he literally hijacks the meeting she’s running, suggests a Golden Age action-adventure, where the global intrigue is merely the romance’s leavening agent, their attraction mostly falls by the wayside. The tension between subsides and the screenplay troublesomely forgetting to author them crackling, never mind witty, dialogue, the plot leaving them behind.

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