Beyond boring


Oct. 28, 2003, midnight | By Olivia Bevacqua | 17 years, 2 months ago

Beyond Borders aims for admirable target but misses miserably


Struggling nations all over the world are in need of aid, and most Americans wouldn't even be able to find these countries on a map. They can, however, rattle off J-Lo's last three boyfriends and describe the evolution of Michael Jackson's controversial face. So how do you educate several million star-obsessed Americans on worldly problems? You make a movie, of course.

Martin Campbell's Beyond Borders has many elements of a compelling movie that would both captivate and inform American viewers who are too lazy to research current problems in Chechnya but are ever-willing to check out Britney's latest music video. The movie includes the requisite sexy female—none other than the gorgeous Angelina Jolie—as well as a tragic love story, violence and lots of the shock appeal that we Americans enjoy. But while Tomb Raider fans may be disappointed that Jolie doesn't show much skin, the real problem lies in the dragging, horribly unfocused plot.

Jolie plays Sarah Jordan, a young wife who abandons her comfy life as an art critic to become a relief worker for the United Nations. Her first destination is Ethiopia, where she plans to volunteer at a camp of starving refugees. Riding to camp, she sees a young child along the road and tells the driver to stop. When the child turns his head to face Jolie, the viewer is greeted by a human skeleton. His eyes are sunken and bugs crawl across his forehead. Such shock appeal is used throughout the movie, as though the director wants to slap the viewer in the face every 15 minutes. The problem is that the causes behind each disturbing scene are seldom wholly explained. Vague references to civil war sometimes precede images of harrowing violence, but a clear and complete explanation given as to what is going on in the country is never given.

During her stay in Ethiopia, it is also not really clear what Jordan does. There are scattered shots of her holding starving children and staring at them lovingly, but you don't get a sense of her purpose in the camp. She does bump heads with Nick Callahan (Clive Owen), a young doctor who is the camp leader. Callahan is an intense and angry man who is very passionate about his relief causes and obtaining aid. So passionate, in fact, that the only way he can appeal for such support is by guilt tripping, insulting and cussing out anyone who might potentially help him. Somehow, he and Jordan fall in love.

The movie skips ahead several years to Jordan's promotion to a high position in the UNHCR. She travels to Cambodia to oversee the delivery of supplies to war-torn civilians and in the process meets up with Callahan. The two of them profess their undying love but decide that being together would be too dangerous, even though Jordan claims that her marriage "died" years ago, a hazy plot line that is never explored. Insert more shots of Jordan and Callahan staring at each other through tear-filled eyes. Also annoying is a sappy theme song that plays in the background during Jordan's introductory narrations and ponderous, teary introspections on the trials of the world.

Some time after the Cambodia experience, Callahan runs into trouble in Chechnya, and Jordan hastens over to help. Each country they visit seems to be worse than the last: from starvation in the desert to brutal guerillas in the rainforest to land mines and bombings in a freezing, snowy nightmare. Yet throughout Jordan's hair and outfits remain impeccable.

To Campbell's credit, he provides some powerful images that could indeed compel viewers to care about crises occurring in other countries. A scene in which a Khmer Rouge soldier thrusts a grenade into the hands of an inquisitive baby is guaranteed to haunt viewers well after the movie. However, the effectiveness of such devices would be substantially enhanced with an explanation of the political/social workings behind the scenes. Beyond Borders does not provide such information; rather, it offers beautiful shots of exotic scenery, close-ups of Jordan's flawless face and shocking views of poverty and violence.

The concept of a sexy, determined relief worker who faces obstacles such as America's reluctance to provide aid is excellent. Unfortunately, Beyond Borders fails to execute this promising premise. Somewhere in between the wandering plot and woeful lack of concrete information, the viewer is lost in a sea of boredom.



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