The Peacemaker

(Mimi Leder, USA, 1997)


Few action-spectaculars begin as drearily as The Peacemaker.

In the murky ruins of a New World Order, trains are hijacked and nuclear weapons are shunted into the evil hands of nameless, faceless villains. Eventually there is a Chernobyl-like disaster and – in a touch that will become characteristic of this movie – we are offered the fleeting glimpse of two ordinary peasants exterminated by these shenanigans.

The glamorous American heroes of the piece are, of course, only a mobile-phone-call away. These preservers of world peace make a familiar kind of odd couple. Julia (Nicole Kidman) is a University-trained, cool, collected, slightly officious type. Her partner out in the field, Thomas (George Clooney), is a real-world guy: cheeky, uncompromising, a rebel who gets the dirty work done by whatever means necessary.

Julia and Thomas cross the globe at super-fast speed in order to weed out a particularly dangerous terrorist and hopefully save us all from nuclear devastation. To be fair, The Peacemaker is not exactly the standard, gung ho, xenophobic thriller (in the vein of Air Force One [1997]). The guy who eventually slips into America with his deadly device is not a regulation psycho but an individual deeply pained by the war that has destroyed his home and life in Sarajevo. Nevertheless, the film really only flirts with such political complexities and nuances.

Steven Spielberg's production company Dreamworks has brought in Mimi Leder (director of episodes of ER and L.A. Law) to handle this slight departure from the action formula. The ambitions of the project are clear. At moments, it recalls the sweeping, political melodramas of the '60s by Hitchcock or Otto Preminger – complete with split-second grabs of overwrought ethnic-sounding music that are meant to create intense empathy for poor, bedevilled, non-American nations.

The Peacemaker's political savvy, however, is ultimately as thin on the ground as its grasp of feminism, or its display of general human compassion. In brief vignettes that break up the lumbering action set-pieces, we see our stars shed a tear or look faintly morose in relation to the escalating spectacle of death around them. But this does not alter the key, generic moment when Julia – as a mark of her real-world education – finally learns how to tear through a crowded street and gleefully yell to the operatives who have the bad guy in their rifle sights: "Shoot him!"

© Adrian Martin December 1997

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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