Given the way the United Nations has taken a beating in the American media over the past year or so, it may not be a bad thing that Beyond Borders is, at heart, a two-hour infomercial for Kofi Annan’s organization. As a call to action, the production has already worked on at least one person: star Angelina Jolie, who went directly from shooting the film to signing on as a U.N. goodwill ambassador.
In theory, Beyond Borders has everything it takes to be a hit: a female lead who’s a huge star, a male lead (Croupier‘s Clive Owen) with a cult following, gorgeous locations, a soundtrack that conveniently tells you when you’re supposed to cry, a socially relevant plot and equal doses of action and doomed romance. Balancing the ingredients is tougher than it looks, though — no one’s nailed it quite like James Cameron did with Titanic. Women who like epic romances may flinch at the number of times Borders throws infants in harm’s way, and men who like action movies may find more crying than they’re comfortable with.
The degree to which the movie hammers home its point — there are poor people all over the world in need of help, which is sad — can perhaps be attributed to Oliver Stone’s attachment to the project for five years. (He bailed to make an Alexander the Great movie before Baz Luhrmann could complete his own version.) In Stone’s place we get Martin Campbell (Vertical Limit, Goldeneye), whose strength is in skillfully crafting straightforward action sequences. It’s no surprise, then, that Beyond Borders comes most to life not when depicting the starving masses but rather when Owen has to face down a deranged pack of Khmer Rouge intent on having his head, or when Jolie must escape a Chechnyan battlefield.
Jolie’s Sarah Jordan, an American art-gallery employee, is happily married to Henry Bauford (Linus Roache), the fortunate son of a wealthy socialite. Henry is every bit the traditional Brit: friendly but distant, terrified of seeming improper; he remarks that his wife’s decision to visit an Ethiopian refugee camp isn’t a very “grown-up” thing to do. On the other hand, we have Nick Callahan (Owen), a roughneck who storms a charity event being held by Henry’s dad, says ” bollocks” a lot to prove that he’s serious, and insists that the rich benefactors in attendance know nothing about the real conditions facing poor people in the world. A tear streams from Sarah’s eye, and we know romance must be in the cards somewhere down the line.
Sarah goes off to join the United Nations and help Callahan’s hands-on efforts, first in Ethiopa (Namibia stands in), then, five years later, in Cambodia (Thailand) and, six years after that, in Chechnya (Canada). Along the way, her hairstyle changes, and hubby Henry cheats on her, which clears the path for her to get busy with Nick.
Campbell spares no expense in showing us the savageness of these foreign lands — the Ethiopians look like full-on horror-movie creations. Unlike the too-healthy actors often seen in Hollywood movies about the Holocaust, these starvation victims really are just skin and bones. In Cambodia, the natives get to eat, but they also lose limbs as a result of walking across minefields. Once we get to Chechnya, though, Campbell’s having too much fun blowing up stuff to show us more victims. Screenwriter Caspian Tredwell-Owen went to Kosovo as part of his research, which presumably informs this latter part of the movie.
It’s not a bad film, exactly, just a confused one, too violent to be a straight romance and too focused on foreign relief to be an ass-kicking action flick. One assumes its makers were hoping to appeal to both crowds, but it’s more likely they’ll end up alienating everyone.