There is a fine line to be walked when it comes to a politically-themed dramatic film. On the one hand, the filmmakers have made the admirable decision to educate as well as entertain, but they can't beat the audience to death with the injustices of the world. So, the writer will often throw in a love story and use the political situation as a kind of backdrop. At this point, they run the risk of creating the film with two brains that will ultimately destroy itself.
Angelina Jolie plays Sarah, the wife of a wealthy Englishman. After an impassioned political demonstration, she is inspired to pursue relief work as a career. She travels to Africa where she meets a doctor named Nick Callahan (played by Clive Owen). Nick ridicules Sarah and calls her naïve, but her determination only grows. She returns to England and eventually assumes a position at the United Nations.
Meanwhile, Nick and his fellow aid workers find themselves perpetually running short of supplies due to corrupt government leadership in Ethiopia. They are faced with the decision of either giving up their aid program, or accepting the help of a wealthy benefactor who will provide food and medical supplies so long as contraband guns and other weapons can be snuck into the shipments.
On the film's official website, the president of an international relief organization is quoted as saying Beyond Borders is an accurate portrayal of "the desperation of the people on both sides of the equation – those who are in need and those who are trying to help them." If this is truly the case, then Beyond Borders is a film of some social significance and the filmmakers are to be commended.
So why are they marketing this film as a romantic epic? Despite what the trailer and all the promotional material might have you believe, Beyond Borders isn't a romantic film. The major settings include: famine and disease-ridden Ethiopia in the 1980s, Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge and the mid-90s war in Chechnya. Can you feel the love tonight? At the screening I attended, one man walked out at the image of a starving (CG) baby watching a vulture pick at his mother. Angelina Jolie and Clive Owen are plenty sexy but the mood just isn't right.
All the elements are present in Beyond Borders for a good film. It's just that someone needs to decide whether this film is a gritty political drama OR an epic love story and then re-write the thing. In said re-write all the heavy-handed dialogue has to go go go. At one point, early in the film, Clive Owen delivers a monologue in which he visibly seems to be repressing his own gag reflex. The speech included the line "If everyone I lose has a name..." and was a horrific piece of writing.
Angelina Jolie was perfectly acceptable in the role of Sarah and her real-life humanitarian work lends credibility to the role. Aside from a few impassioned speeches, the film was surprisingly free of overtly self-celebratory moments.
All in all, Beyond Borders has some interesting things to say, it just doesn't say them very well. With a good portion of the audience going to this film expecting a romance, they are bound to be let down and I will be shocked if this film does any business at the box office after its first weekend. It's really a shame because the film industry could stand to make a few more films in the political spirit of Beyond Borders.
-Megan A. Denny