Harrison's Flowers Review

Harrison Lloyd (David Strathairn) is a Pulitzer prize-winning news photographer, acclaimed, honoured and respected by his peers and colleagues. The pressure of working in war-zones makes a regular family life difficult and his relationship with his son is beginning to suffer from his constant trips to dangerous locations. Nevertheless, when war breaks out in Bosnia, Harrison is on the first plane over and sends back a roll of photos with the label – "They’re all insane". When it is reported that Harrison has been killed in the conflict, his wife Sarah (Andie MacDowell), refuses to accept that he is dead, believing that she has seen him in TV footage of prisoners in Vukovar. She flies over to Bosnia where she teams up with Kyle Morris (Adrien Brody, The Pianist) and Marc Stevenson (Brendan Gleeson) to go on an insane search for her husband in the middle of one of the most bloody and vicious wars of recent times.

The recent war in Iraq highlighted the risks taken by journalists on the front-line and made us possibly a little more sceptical of the reports they send back. The deaths and disappearances of many journalists in Iraq was certainly shocking news, but it never overshadowed the importance of the war they were reporting on. This sense of perspective is something that Harrison’s Flowers appears to be sadly missing.

The central premise of the story is pretty dumb and actually quite offensive. Focussing on the search for a missing American journalist, the film blithely disregards the thoughtless stupidity of a woman who will enter a war-zone to look for her husband based on a silent phone-call she receives soon after he is reported dead. Not only is the very idea stupid, but it is carried out with a similar lack of thought or concern for realism and no comprehension of world affairs or other people’s suffering except in the context that it applies those searching for the journalist.

On her arrival in Bosnia, Sarah is immediately made aware of the shocking scale of the violence, yet she not only continues undeterred, but inexplicably manages to convince a couple of other journalists against their better judgement to accompany her on her foolhardy mission. Added to this we also have to endure the ludicrous sight of professional photojournalists crouching around cars like commandoes, "shooting" in pitch darkness at explosions going off around them. If the script and plot lacks subtlety and finesse, the dialogue is just as lacking, consisting for the most part of variations of "You’re insane!", "Get the -- out of here!", "You can’t go there!", "They’re all -- insane!", "They’re mad -- animals!", "They’re killing everybody!". All this imaginative and thought-provoking dialogue is accompanied by frequent expletives and profanities, just to make it seem more 'real' and 'serious'.

The film tries to add some more thoughtful consideration and broader context to the story with faux-documentary interview inserts with the cast. Mostly these don’t add anything, often needlessly narrating what you can see on the screen, but occasionally they include remarks like "I saw snipers shooting down kids and then scratching another check mark on the wall", which might almost mean something if it was a real person speaking and not an actor in a fictional event.

You have to question what the point of this film is. If it is to highlight the horrors of war, then why on earth make a missing journalist the focus of the story? If the concern of the film is not with the war itself, but an attempt to highlight the risks taken by the people who report on the war, then there is no need for the graphic violence and brutality shown entirely out of context and only as a series of horrors that must be endured by American civilians out to bravely and heroically rescue one of their own. The terrors endured by the Bosnian people in the conflict are reduced to a series of gloriously obscene, yet perfectly staged and composed photographs of raped children, dying grandmothers and mounds of dead bodies captured by the photographers on their brave mission. So I suppose it was all worth it then...

By the end, the film sinks into the unwatchable obscenity of war pornography to such an extent that it only emphasises the sickeningly sentimental and self-centred finale.

The picture is presented in anamorphic widescreen at 2.35:1. Colours are a little over-saturated which makes the print look like it lacks real sharpness. One or two scenes actually look out of focus. A faint fine grain is visible. Overall the image quality is rather better than average, but it could certainly be better than this.

The DVD includes a Dolby Digital 5.1 and a DTS soundtrack. Both mixes are fairly average and are mostly centre speaker based. There is plenty of opportunity with the war scenes to make something of the full range of speakers, but this is rarely taken advantage of apart from the odd LFE rumble of tanks.

Trailer (1.43)
The trailer is extremely violent and unusually for a trailer contains swearing. It’s a fair representation of what the film is about. If I had seen this first, personally, I would have steered well clear of Harrison’s Flowers.

A far less flattering portrait of the press can be seen in No Man’s Land which makes a far more powerful and broader anti-war statement, both generally and specifically to the Bosnian conflict, through satire and black humour. All Harrison’s Flowers does is reduce shocking images of senseless brutality to a backdrop or a playground for Americans to carry out daring raids and missions in the name of love. A truly awful, exploitative and deeply offensive film.

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