Beyond Borders Review
No really, Geri Halliwell was indeed an ambassador of the U.N., tasked, following her quitting of the Spice Girls, with the raising of women's issues across the world. Given that, when alongside Emma B, the future Mrs Beckham and Mels C and B, she'd happily discuss poverty, stardom, her breasts and name Mrs Thatcher as the first Spice Girl, the U.N. must have hoped for a strong-willed spokeswoman who'd take female circumcision, the third world and the sexual abuse of women and children as an instrument of war into the pages of Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan and New Woman. How disappointed must Kofi Annan must have been when the only issues Geri appeared interested in talking about were her weight loss, the wearing of pink and how tiny, little dogs were that season's essential accessory.
Angelina Jolie, on the other hand, appears to have taken her role as a Goodwill Ambassador with more consideration, even playing down the vials of blood, the rumours of incest and the marriage to Billy Bob Thornton in favour of raising her Cambodian-born child and starring in a film like this, in which the brutal effects of war are seen through those who slowly starve in aid-camps in eastern Africa, Cambodia and Chechnya.
Directed by Martin Campbell, Beyond Borders stars Angelina Jolie as Sarah Jordan, an American socialite married to Henry Bauford (Linus Roache), whose wealthy father, Larry (Timothy West), has recently cut his funding of a camp in Africa despite his hosting of a charity ball in London. That night, Dr Nick Callahan (Clive Owen) crashes the party with a young Ethiopian boy and criticises Bauford for his actions, impressing Sarah to such an extent that she leaves London for Ethiopia to assist Callahan in his running of the camp. As Callahan flirts with the CIA's funding of his camps in exchange for granting them access, Sarah leaves for Cambodia, then Chechnya, meeting Callahan in both places as their paths crisscross in the most deprived and war-torn places in the world.
In spite of the top billing given to Angelina Jolie, it's Clive Owen who gives Beyond Borders a tangible impact from the first moment that he appears on a wet street one night in London during the early eighties. Unlike the stuffed shirts that surround him and eventually wrestle him out of the hotel in which Larry Bauford is hosting a part in aid of Africa, Owen's Callahan is a freewheeling, reckless aid worker who sees only the one route, that which he's decided to follow, to continue the funding of his work. As the film opens, that is to bring a young Ethiopian boy, JoJo, into the midst of the party and, when a drunken City worker throws a banana onto the floor in front of him, Callahan has him make a monkey noise, saying that he'll do anything for food.
However, as quickly as Owen makes an impression with this, giving the audience the feeling that he's clearly someone with whom our sympathies ought to lie, his less attractive qualities are soon revealed. Soon after, in different parts of London, his character agrees to a deal with the CIA to get them into Ethiopia in exchange for funding and, now separated from Callahan and alone in London, JoJo runs away from a flight that was due to take him back to his home country and, as is later revealed, he dies after living on the streets of the capital, something for which the Ethiopian authorities look to blame Callahan for.
Owen's Callahan, therefore, is a relatively complex character within the film, particularly as he is later described as being involved in, "...activities [that] went quite a way beyond what you'd call famine relief" before his arrival in Cambodia and, later, Chechnya and it is Jolie's place in the film to make him more human. In that respect, her playing of Sarah Jordan is effective for she not only makes Callahan a sympathetic figure but gives that impression of Jordan, whose leaving for Chechnya in the middle of the night without saying goodbye to her children also shows that her interests lie abroad and not at home with her family.
But it is Noah Emmerich who is really the heart of the film, being the more careful relief worker alongside Owen's Callahan, who seeks to negotiate better terms from the authorities instead of Callahan's gun-running and who brings Jolie's Jordan back into the film when she leaves Africa to take up a London-based post with UNHCR.
Martin Campbell, who will be known for Goldeneye and Edge Of Darkness, amongst others, directs with occasional moments of style, keeping the scenes set in London low-key and ordinary when compared to those set in Ethiopia, Cambodia and Chechnya. His ability to direct an action scene has not deserted him, though, and although the sequence in Chechnya is the best of the film, Campbell manages to wring every moment of tension out of a scene in which the Khmer Rouge visit Callahan's aid camp. That Campbell resorts to the use of a baby to horrify the audience goes against him - a soldier from the Khmer Rouge isolates the baby from its parents and gives it a hand grenade to hold, so to demonstrate the low cost of life in Cambodia - but his conclusion, in which the villagers attack the Khmer Rouge with only their hands as weapons is thrilling, despite what the more-evolved part of your brain might be saying.
And that, in the end, is what you're left with in Beyond Borders. There's a love story and, although it's not a very good one, don't think about it too much and it kind of pulls you in. Again, although there's a tragic ending, it's not enough to make even a hormonal woman cry, given that my heavily pregnant wife failed to shed a tear at this when she cried for the entire length of Five's recent showing of Terms Of Endearment. And although there are scenes that should be thrilling - the attack by the Ethiopian warlords, that of the Khmer Rouge and Callahan and Jordan's escape from the Chechnyan guerillas - only that in Cambodia really has you gripped. Mostly, that's the fault of jumping between locations as, knowing that Callahan and Jordan eventually make it to Chechnya, we know they'll survive Ethiopia and Cambodia but it's also that we never really get to the heart of any of the conflicts and there's no attempt to give the audience an understanding of what happened in Cambodia nor what is currently happening in Chechnya. For a film that attempts to portray the UNHCR and relief workers in a positive light, Beyond Borders gives the impression that they're gun-running chancers who jump camps in a hurry and travel is but an opportunity to find love. And that is a betrayal of those who've devoted their lives to working in for the UNHCR and other relief agencies worldwide.
Beyond Borders has been anamorphically transferred in 2.35:1 and, even amongst other recent releases, looks particularly good. Martin Campbell uses a mix of colour schemes depending on location - bleak greys for London, cold blues for Chechnya and rich oranges for Ethiopia - and the DVD handles all of them equally well with no obvious digital noise or blemishes on the source print.
The soundtrack - Dolby Digital 5.1 only - is fine but with the exception of those scenes set in Chechnya, which are more Behind Enemy Lines than a dry study of famine release and make good use of the rear speakers for sniper fire and the sound of explosions. The soundtrack does, however, handle both the action and the more dialogue-heavy scenes well with no noise or flaws in the audio signal.
Pathe have included the following list of extras in this DVD release of Beyond Borders:
Audio Commentary: Martin Campbell and Lloyd Philips - director and producer - have recorded a commentary that, although full of details and with few quiet moments, is dry and uninviting. Trivia buffs will find it a treat as Campbell can recall almost every detail from the making of the film, with the exception of Iain Lee's name during his playing of a comedian in 1984, but there's little real pleasure to be had in listening to it.
Behind The Lines Featurette (37m22s): Subtitled, The Making Of Beyond Borders, this will be much too effusive a documentary for most but it is a complete picture of the making of the film, going from Caspian Tredwell-Owen's writing of the script through to the post-production process. Martin Campbell, Angelina Jolie and Clive Owen, amongst others, are interviewed and Jolie is shown away from the set, taking a break on safari.
Writing Beyond Borders (7m22s): The writer of the film, Caspian Tredwell-Owen is interviewed for this feature and talks about the thirty-or-so relief workers that he met whilst researching Beyond Borders, finding that they are driven to work in relief agencies despite slowly becoming more disillusioned at the little difference they believe they are making.
Interviews (10m29s): Angelina Jolie (10m29s) was interviewed for the first interview in this bonus feature, ostensibly about her involvement in the film but, as you might expect, she brings the interview over to a discussion on the UNHCR and her travelling with them to areas of the world where they are active. Jolie proves herself to be an intelligent interviewee with strong opinions on the place that the UN has in bringing relief to Third World countries.
After Jolie, Martin Campbell (6m14s) talks about the background to the film and the challenges of making it within a system that really didn't want to know whilst, in the third interview, Clive Owen (6m54s) talks about the research that he went through in preparing for the role of Nick Callahan.
Angelina Jolie - UN Goodwill Ambassador (3m40s): Filmed on location in Cambodia, Angelina Jolie talks about the origins of the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) and explains their role, before being shown in her work with the UNHCR. Aside from Jolie, Jahanshah Assadi, the regional representative for the UNHCR in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, praises Jolie for her involvement.
There's something of much better films about Beyond Borders - the Cambodian scenes with the Khmer Rouge recall both The Deer Hunter and The Killing Fields whilst the Chechnyan part of the film is similar to Behind Enemy Lines - but the entire piece never really gels as these earlier films did. This is, however, a slower-paced, more sensitive film with a largely positive message and if that message does get lost, it's surely only as a result of being passed through the Hollywood system.
When Campbell and his cast get it right, as they do in the opening scenes in London, in Ethiopia and in the bleak, war-torn scenes in Chechnya, it's a good film but by sacrificing the peaceful role of the UNHCR in exchange for a more thrilling action movie, the film loses focus as though, in the end, there just wasn't the same strength of conviction for those making this film as those real-life relief workers that it claims to portray.