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With: Angelina Jolie, Clive Owen, Teri Polo, Linus Roache, Noah Emmerich
Written by: Caspian Tredwell-Owen
Directed by: Martin Campbell
MPAA Rating: R for language and war-related violence
Running Time: 127
Date: 10/24/2003

Beyond Borders (2003)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Blah and 'Borders'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

As we move towards the annual award season, many movies will try to sliplittle messages into their narratives in an effort to seem moreimportant. The new film Beyond Borders does the opposite; it's a bigmessage that tries to appear in movie clothing.

But, like a cow trying to wear a Brooks Brothers suit, the bad fit is fairly obvious.

In the film, Angelina Jolie stars as Sarah, an American housewife and part-time teacher living in England and married to an Englishman (Linus Roache). At a 1984 benefit dinner, a roguish English doctor, Nick (Clive Owen), bursts in and stages a demonstration against shutting down aid to Ethiopia because of Communist ties.

Moved, Sarah breaks out her savings and buys truckloads of food and medicine for the Ethopians and flies out to the desert to meet Nick and his crew. But her supplies only last a few days and she returns home.

Five years later, she travels to Cambodia. This time she's caught her husband cheating on her, and she's therefore free to have a fling with Nick. Another five years pass and she journeys once again, to Chechnya this time, to rescue a kidnapped Nick.

Screenwriter Caspian Tredwell-Owen and director Martin Campbell must have realized that their preachy scenario did not engage on any kind of emotional or storytelling level, and so they tried to shoehorn in a romantic subplot between Sarah and Nick.

And even that follows the time-tested Hollywood romance formula. The first time they meet, Nick acts like an aggressive, arrogant jerk to Sarah's na�ve, tentative gentleness. But of course, this friction only causes Sarah to be more interested in Nick.

Not only is this whole relationship forced, but the actors -- both extremely attractive -- have no chemistry together. Their one "sex" scene, and the phony way in which they both flop onto a pillow, causes more in the way of giggles than titillation.

The screenplay relies on further clichés and coincidences to move the action along, from the old scene in which a character is supposed to give a speech, stops halfway through her memorized words, and runs offstage, to other self-righteous lines like, "We don't know what courage is!"

In an obvious case of foreshadowing, one minor character who is only onscreen for a couple of minutes delivers a whole speech about stepping on a landmine.

If the movie weren't clumsy enough on its own, it has the misfortune to include a score by James Horner, whose previous overblown works include Titanic, The Grinch, The Perfect Storm, etc. His instincts are almost always wrong. As if we were zombies, he turns up the volume at every inappropriate moment telegraphing the emotions he wants us to feel.

At the helm of this shipwreck, the New Zealand-born director Campbell has certainly shown his talent in the past, but it lies in an entirely different realm. He added a jolt of life to James Bond (Goldeneye) and Zorro (The Mask of Zorro), giving both pictures a breezy, unpretentious gait. How or why he got involved with the extra-pretentious Beyond Borders is up for debate, but the material seems to be just out of his grasp. It's like a child's version of a grown-up story.

I must say, however, that the gorgeous Jolie gives us something new with her performance in the early Ethiopian segment of the film. Appearing in a crisp white dress and a short, bobbed haircut, she embodies a sweet kind of naiveté. The images of hunger and death around her make her wide-eyed and tense, and she doesn't quite know how to release it. She holds this uncertainty with a certain pride that's terribly moving. It's a beautifully subtle performance, one of the finest things Jolie has ever done, even if the latter two segments of the movie rarely equal it.

Not that any of this really matters; Beyond Borders still isn't a real movie. It has the shape of a movie, and the framework of a movie, but the insides are clogged by a huge, misshapen message. And it just can't move.

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