Film Review: The Peacemaker -- When keeping track of just most of the missiles isn't good enough
Directed by Mimi Leder
Written by Michael Schiffer
Starring Nicole Kidman, George Clooney, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Marcel Iures, Alexander Baluev, Rene Medvesek, Randall Batinkoff, and Michael Boatman.By Vladimir V. Zelevinsky
Given that The Peacemaker is the first ever movie from the newly formed DreamWorks movie studio, the brainchild of Steven Spielberg, it comes as a certain surprise that the plot is one of the most basic action movie plots - catching the terrorist who stole several weapons of mass destruction and intends to use them. This plot was already used, reused and overused in action movies (The Rock), James Bond movies (Thunderball), Jackie Chan movies (First Strike) and even parodies of James Bond movies (True Lies). And yet here we see a big, important, and expensive movie earnestly using the same plot again.
The key word here is "earnestly". It is surprising how far this earnestness gets us. The first hour and a half of The Peacemaker are paced slower than is customary for the action movies nowadays, but this gives the filmmakers time to put in characterization (not much, but some), psychological motives for the villains (who are more complex than standard-issue bad guys), and the all-important details. When we see a passenger train about to be demolished by the terrorists, the movie tries to get us outraged by reminding us that there are people on the train - a sleeping old man, a young couple, a woman who is breast-feeding her baby. And then the imminent destruction does cause our outrage. Not quite surprising, considering that one of the producers of this movie also produced Schindler's List.
Since the plot is so ordinary, it's the details that have to be good. And attention to details is the thing that The Peacemaker does right. All Russian and Serbian characters are played by Russian and Serbian actors, so all the native language dialog is unaccented (anyone remembers Sean Connery's accent in The Hunt For The Red October?). The current political situation, geography and science are also done correctly; this, however, might make the movie less accessible to the general viewers, since the understanding of how a nuclear bomb works is necessary to fully appreciate the ending. And quite an ending it is. After an hour and a half of action which borders on blandness, there's a taut and exciting finale, set in New York city, which is especially fun to watch if you actually know Manhattan.
Another nice thing about the movie is the presence of Nicole Kidman. It's a rare thing to find a competent, in-charge female in an action movies that isn't there for romance. She also sets a very high standard of acting, and George Clooney is not quite up to it. He spends the first half of the movie just standing around and smirking, which grows quite irritating. Fortunately, in the second half, when the cat-and-mouse game turns personal, he stops smirking and actually does some decent acting.
All in all, a surprisingly conventional movie, although done as well as could be expected given such a generic plot. Perhaps DreamWorks wanted to secure a broad spectrum of viewers with their first outing, but they missed a chance to be more daring. Perhaps Amistad, a historical drama directed by Steven Spielberg, coming out in December, will be more interesting.