You want to like George Clooney. Every time a movie of his comes out, it places decently at the box office, makes its money back, and lets him make another. But it has to be admitted that the actual movies themselves, while often featuring good work by Clooney, have been less than stellar. From Dusk Till Dawn was subpar; One Fine Day forgettable; Batman and Robin embarrassing.
That's why I was so glad to see a movie which is good, solid entertainment and in which Clooney's character is both likable and kicks ass.
The Peacemaker, starring Clooney and Nicole Kidman, is one of those rare actioners in which the story is believable, the pace taut and the storytelling lean, and the acting above average. Executive Decision comes to mind as another good example. Unlike such obvious fakery as The Saint and Air Force One, the admittedly Hollywood-ized political background of The Peacemaker doesn't stretch credulity to the breaking point.
The unique feature of The Peacemaker among action flicks is that it plays remarkably like a very smart "60 Minutes" report, if Mike Wallace could get his hands on enough live footage. There is literally no wasted space, even through an extended hijacking prologue some have labeled boring. I found it fascinating to watch. A hijacking is essentially a secret, quiet, eminently physical crime. Most films would cut much of the actual physical activity to focus on the muscular confrontations typical of the genre. Schwarzenegger would grunt, "Your presence on this locomotive has become superfluous!" and throw someone over the side. Mimi Leder, the former "ER" director who helms The Peacemaker, resists this temptation, and comes up with something interesting and gripping. Simply to see the hijacking take place without a lot of talk and bluster is a joy. It's probably stretching things to compare this sequence to Dziga-Viertov's Man with a Camera, but only a little. The same powerful kineticism of pure visual storytelling keeps the images from being anything like boring.
And we haven't even seen Clooney and Kidman yet. Clooney plays Lt. Tom Devoe, a sort of an independent operator who specializes in undercover work to discover and contain nuclear weapons smuggling. Kidman is Julia Kelly, the interim director of the White House Nuclear Smuggling Group. When ten warheads are stolen from a train in Russia, and one is exploded, Kelly and Devoe have to work together to get the remaining nine back.
I should mention that George Clooney is very much a television actor. By that, I mean his little mannerisms and facial expressions are very limited. He always plays the same kind of character when he plays his character well, that is, a sort of a bad boy who is charming and is always being forgiven for his little mistakes and foibles. I don't mean there isn't a lot of room within those parameters for him to have a great career; there certainly is. But this may be part of the reason he hasn't usually burnt up the box office. We'd rather have him in our living rooms where he can charm us in person. Nevertheless, his likability still comes across on the big screen.
Kidman and Clooney have a real chemistry in the film, though it is never the subject of the film. Thank goodness. The last thing I wanted was a Speed-like "now we're boyfriend and girlfriend because we went through so much together" ending. Instead, they have some real conflict and emotional sequences together, but focus on their work, as they should. Very little is hackneyed about the plot of this film, even though it is relatively familiar.
Even the villain is well-portrayed (and I won't spoil it by saying who it is). This is pretty rare. We don't sympathize with him, but we believe him, and that's enough.
Overall, The Peacemaker is a promising debut for the new DreamWorks SKG studio. This Christmas will bring Mouse Hunt and Steven Spielberg's Amistad, and we'll see if they can keep dodging convention and making money at the same time.
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