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Non-Review Review: The Peacemaker

It’s interesting to look back at George Clooney’s early road to movie stardom. Indeed, the actor’s first leading roles seem like movies that really should have been star-making turns, but just weren’t. There’s obviously his portrayal of Bruce Wayne in Batman & Robin, a performance not quite as bad as the film around it, but there’s also his roles in films like The Peacemaker. The Peacemaker also was the first film released under Spielberg’s Dreamworks company, and it’s hardly an auspicious début. It’s not that The Peacemaker is a bad film. It’s a very well made, and the production values are excellent.

However, the problem is the premise itself, the plotting, the pacing and the script. The Peacemaker feels like it really wants to be a Tom Clancy thriller, and it really wants us to accept George Clooney as a more dynamic Harrison Ford. Unfortunately, it feels like all the plot points, characters and motivations all came second-hand. There isn’t one thing here that hasn’t been done before, and done better, and those parts aren’t even assembled in an especially original way.

The name’s Clooney. George Clooney.

“God, I miss the Cold War,” the National Security Advisor moans, and you get a sense that he’s speaking for the script writers as well. At least in those days plotting a conventional thriller like this was easy. Instead, finding a bunch of villains for the latest international thriller is a geo-political nightmare. The bad guys have to be generic enough to avoid offending anybody, but they also have to have plausible motivations for their actions. The problem with the The Peacemaker is that it can’t seem to find a single strong bad guy, and so mixes and matches the potential threat.

The first half of the film follows an attempt by a corrupt Russian military officer to steal nine nukes to sell on the black market for profit. It’s certainly nothing we’ve ever seen before. The character is poorly sketched and defined. Then, about half-way through, the movie pulls a bit of a bait-and-switch as we suddenly focus on an Eastern European with a political grudge against the United States. In a way, it reminds me of how 24 would structure its seasons, with an early threat presented and developed during the first half of the season, only to be supplanted towards the end.

There’s a lot on the line…

It worked much better there, because there was more space to develop the characters and their motivations, both personal and political. Even when the show kept it deliberately vague, there was still stuff to chew over. Here, it seems like The Peacemaker was almost crafted on the fly in homage to various other international thrillers, running through a serious of motions and set-ups in order to emulate the style of those kinds of films. All of this is strictly paint-by-numbers.

It does try to present the final bad guy in a bit more depth than most films, but it’s hard to feel too much sympathy for a villain who is willing to nuke a city full of civilians to avenge the loss of his son that even his targeted victims weren’t directly responsible for. Even as he herds a bunch of mandated children out of the “c’mon it’s symbolic!” church towards the end of the film, it’s really hard to see him as anything more than a one-dimensional bad guy who exists to push the movie towards its inevitable and unavoidable climax. It’s just very hard to get too excited about any of this.

It never quite takes off…

Still, despite the relatively mundane set-up and scripting, the execution is suitably stylish. Mimi Leder’s direction is taut, and manages to wrangle a bit more style out of the material than it really should. You’re never truly engaged or invested in the characters or their world, but it looks good. It really feels like the film is far more watchable than it really should be, by an objective measure.

The cast helps. Clooney is charming and debonair, as ever, even if his lines aren’t as sharp as they should be. Nicole Kidman is stuck playing that stereotypically female role in movies like this – it’s her job to be book-sharp and logical, in contrast to her counterpart’s arrogant recklessness and ground-level experience. Kidman manages to make the most of the role, even if she is stuck being too shrill at times, seemingly sticking around to do nothing but admonish her colleague.

A peace of work…

Despite the fact that they’re both quite good in the individual roles, Clooney and Kidman don’t really have any chemistry. I suspect it’s a problem with the script, but they never seem like they truly care about one another. They seem more like a severely dysfunctional couple than a budding one. They’re meant to be flirty, but they almost sound resentful of one another – and not in that playful was that big-screen couples are before they come to love one another. “You know, for once you could say something nice,” he observes after recovering eight of the nine stolen warheads, sounding like a brow-beaten husband. “That’s not enough,” Kidman’s Kelly freaks out over the walkie-talkie, as if he’s messed up the shopping list.

The rest of the cast is quite good. In particular, there’s an awesome (if small) role for Armin Muller Stahl as Clooney’s character’s Russian friend. Stahl is always superb, but he seems to relish being put in the strange situation of playing a benign authority figure. “Check out zee seats,” he advises his colleagues at one point, “zay go all zee way back!” Interestingly enough, the film even finds a small role for Goran Visnjic, who would be Clooney’s replacement on ER.

You’ve gotta be Kid(man)ing me…

The Peacemaker isn’t terrible. Clooney had that leading man quality even back then, and the execution is solid. However, the movie itself feels like it was created from scraps taken from bigger, better, bolder films. It can put those elements together into a recognisable shape, but it can’t seem to make them work as well as they did elsewhere.

3 Responses

  1. It’s a major TURN OFF when a movie star like George Clooney tries to be a tough military guy in a movie like “Peacemaker” because we all see his liberal views and the fact this guy has never served in the military or even bred children and had to take care of them makes it pathetic to watch him in any role where he is a caretaker or savior of anything. He’s just not it. Such a turn off. It would be more appealing to watch him if he was the father of children he cared for or had served in the military, but this guy is such a selfish, do nothing outside of Hollywood, the fact he hasn’t even made a child is a major turn off. It shows he’s a selfish person who is too obsessed with himself..yuk. TURN OFF.

  2. Hard disagree, actually?

    This is probably the best of the thrillers with “post Cold War” as a theme. It’s got one foot firmly in the Cold War and one foot firmly in the modern world order and it actually has a pretty good grasp of both. In captures the mood pretty well in America (“yay, we won! … holy shit, what the fuck’s THIS mess?”), in Russia (“… now what?”), and in too many of their former proxy states (“we are fucking exhausted with being your battlegrounds and we are coming for you”). Also, seen from the world of the late 2010s (“oh crap, Russia’s back”), I appreciate the way it portrays the place. In most action thrillers from this era, the rogue Russian general would be a communist or nationalist hard-liner with a cause. The fact that he’s portrayed as a simple crook in a uniform might make him two-dimensional and boring, but it’s also pretty accurate: he’s exactly the kind of pezzonovante who thrived under communism, went full gangster-capitalist in the nineties, and is still running the place today under Putin.

    I can see why this movie wouldn’t get much attention compared to its nineties peers (it doesn’t help that that was a genuinely great decade for action films), but it’s really aged pretty well.

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