It may be strange and unintended but it seems to me that this picture is
primarily about the beauty and immense sexual appeal of Angelina Jolie.
Secondarily, it is about her humanitarian side which probably gave rise to a
script being developed to raise awareness and financial assistance for
starving and impoverished refugees. That component is validated by her being
named by the UN as a goodwill ambassador assisting refugees in August, 2001.
The setting for this love story, then, is part of this lady's agenda and,
likely as not, fed into Caspian Tredwell-Owen's screenplay.
The movie's corresponding agenda gets a kick start when, during a dinner for
benefactors of an AID Relief agency Dr. Nick Callahan (Clive Owen) crashes
the party with an emaciated African boy in tow, and takes the stage to rant
about how little is being done to alleviate Ethiopian starvation where he's
serving as doctor, advocate and firebrand. The idea behind his attack on the
consciences of the rich is to reach someone who is in a position to help.
That connection is made to heretofore naive Sarah Jordan (Angelina Jolie)
whose heartstrings and philanthropy buttons have been pushed by the audacious
doctor. Her world takes a spin.
As a mother and wife she is no position to respond to or even acknowledge the
heartstring issue concerning the dynamic doctor, but she launches into the
do-gooder inducement by taking off for parts Nigerian with a few truckloads of
goods. When she sees for herself the extremities of the poorly fed
multitudes in the camps, and when she is exposed to the political realities
of rebel bands demanding their share of anything coming in, her
education begins with three dimensional impact.
When the other object of her desires (Dr. Nick) acknowledges her presence and
good deeds, he is disdainful of her motivations, dismissing her by noting
that she's worn perfume on her visit to the desert enclave. Smarting under
his cynicism, she carries on with caring for a dying mother and son and
leaves the desert for home in London where husband Henry Bauford (Linus
Roache) and child provide a warmer reception.
As far as her husband goes, it's a matter of maintaining home stability for
the child since love has gone out of the marriage long ago. This, of course,
provides all the audience needs for accepting her fascination for the
dedicated doctor who operates in a world theatre of the desperately needy.
Before she's through with her pursuit, she follows Nick's efforts into
Cambodia where they're nearly wiped out by a band of vicious Khmer Rouge.
Her dedication is surpassed by her closeups. Nick is in no position to
disregard the sensuality of her presence, though he's been fastidious in
submerging his feelings under the demands of his work. Finally, after a few
hesitant moments alone in various locales, and once his rising admiration
creates a fertile field for lust to enter his mind and her tent, the pair get
it on. After what we've been waiting for has been finally satisfied, Nick
urges Sarah to return home rather than follow him to his next assignment in a
very hostile Chechnya.
When he's captured by a Chechnyan warlord and disappears into parts unknown,
a horrified Sarah gets her TV correspondent sister (Teri Polo) to
find out where he is being held and she ventures into the lawless country to
try and stage a rescue. The events there provide a lesson in reckless
endangerment and a sad enough ending to nail down the concept of sacrifice in
good causes... a note of falsity that pervades the melodrama.
Clive Owen, perhaps by his very nature or his acting gifts always manages to
create a singular presence and, here, his magnetic reserve serves him and the
picture well. His TV roles for the BBC ("Second Sight") are as distinguished
as his roles in feature films ("Croupier", 1998; "The Bourne Identity",
2001). Slowly emerging from British borders, his appearance in this film,
which is likely to be conspicuous in the Jolie spotlight, we hope will
illuminate his off-beat looks and talent.
I hate to bring the term "exploitative" up because Jolie's embrace of refugee
assistance would argue that the fabricated circumstances created here had a
genuine basis. But in the final analysis, one comes away with the feeling
that it was a studio or producer who, wanting to tie into Jolie's boxoffice
pull, put something together that would harmonize with her personal projects
and lock her into a collaboration that would not have had the same resonance
with any other beautiful film star.
This would contradict the publicity version which maintains that it was the
script that got Jolie to research the refugee issue in the first place, but
either way, the result is a romantic thriller in a quasi documentary setting
where desert tents and ramshackle buildings are as spotlessly dust-free as
London townhouses. There is a certain inadequacy abiding here.
~~ Jules Brenner