George Clooney has had an interesting and highly successful career over the past thirty years, starting in bit parts in films, then bigger parts on TV, moving to starring roles in somewhat lightweight pictures, and winding up as a serious actor in some rewarding dramas. "The Peacemaker" from 1997 finds him in transition, playing the hero in an action-suspense thriller, the first theatrical release from the newly formed DreamWorks production company.
While the movie isn't half bad, that's not to say it's very good, either. It tries hard to be a fast-actioner, but it never catches fire. I'd say it's because it hasn't enough heart; it's got all the right goods without the right passion to make an audience care much about it. Let me explain.
The movie begins with the murder of a Serbian finance minister, followed by a rogue Russian general hijacking a trainload of Russian nuclear devices and then detonating one of the bombs. The filmmakers do all this in dark, shrouded, mysterious tones, with suspenseful pacing and gripping tension. So far, so good. It bodes well for Michael Shiffer's fairly tight (if fairly ludicrous) screenplay and for Mimi Leder's sure-handed direction.
After a lengthy plot introduction, we meet the two principal characters. Nicole Kidman plays Dr. Julia Kelly, a physicist and acting chair of the U.S. Nuclear Smuggling Group. When word reaches Washington that somebody has just set off an atomic bomb, she and her organization are the first responders. Dr. Kelly's initial thought is that someone set off the bomb on purpose; it was no accident. Next, we meet George Clooney's Lt. Col. Tom Devoe, a hotshot in the military espionage business, whose "enthusiasm" sometimes gets the best of him. The government appoints him as Kelly's military liaison officer. She hopes he's somebody who can take orders. No chance; he's used to getting his own way.
Devoe suggests that the detonation of the bomb was a cover for the real threat: Somebody's stolen the bombs to sell to the highest bidder, perhaps the Russian Mafia, perhaps Iran. And so the story goes, a conspiracy around every corner, with Kelly, Devoe, and their forces hot on the trail of the baddies throughout most of Eastern Europe.
As the story proceeds, we get plenty of action and an ever-increasing degree of suspense. We find a modestly exciting car chase early on, resembling something from a demolition derby; and then we get a harrowing helicopter sequence, the possible leveling of New York City, and maybe the start of World War III for good measure.
So, what went wrong? Why amid all this excitement does the film never feel as though we care much about it? Certainly, the plot is implausible, but we've come to expect that of an action thriller. Do Bonds or Bournes ever feel plausible? And certainly the script structures the story line tightly enough, even if it's a tad hard to follow at times. I think it's the one-dimensional characterizations that let us down.
Kidman's character is the brains of the outfit, and she plays second fiddle to Clooney's brawn. I wonder if the script had emphasized the brains a little more rather than Clooney's muscles if it would have kept our attention more. Worse, Clooney's character is for once without much charisma. He's no Bond or Bourne; he's a straightforward, serious action kind of guy, with a disagreeably cocky attitude. I can't remember more than a moment anywhere in the film where Clooney isn't behaving like a macho lunkhead. Not that I would have liked any fun-and-games in the film, any tongue-in-cheek winking or nodding at the camera (we've had enough of that already), but a minute here or there to lighten the mood with a little wit or romance might have helped. As it is, Kidman's scientist is all cold and businesslike, and Clooney's spy-chaser is all arrogant and pushy. And, I should add, there's little chemistry between Kidman and Clooney, their characters working together but practically never talking to each other, let alone feeling any emotional attachment. It's more than a little off-putting for an audience expecting something more from the exaggerated thrills than a cut-and-dried espionage yarn long on hyperbole and short on charm.
Perhaps just as disturbing as the distance the characters remain from the viewer is the fact that the villains in the piece keep changing. There's a professional hit man, a Russian general, a Serbian upstart, the upstart's brother, and a host of scoundrels everywhere, with the heroes knocking them off one by one and another popping up to take his place. By the time the film ends, we're practically rooting for the remaining bad guy.
Still, the movie does manage to make a good impression in a few other ways. Director Leder ("Deep Impact," "Pay It Forward"), as I've said, works up a good head of steam in most of the action sequences, and she does so without resorting to the sort of quick editing that mars so many of today's actioners. And composer Hans Zimmer turns in another decent musical score, relying heavily on both standard action-movie motifs and a number of classical pieces, including a Wagner-like theme for the movie's climax.
More important, the movie's enigmatic opening sequences and the final twenty minutes are practically worth the rest of the film. Practically but not quite close enough. Still, even though "The Peacemaker" may miss the mark of being a great action-spy-suspense thriller, it might be worth a look for the die-hard fan.
DreamWorks use an MPEG-4 codec and a dual-layer BD50 to transfer the movie to Blu-ray disc in its native aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Colors are bright when they need to be, natural, with realistic skin tones and deep black levels. Definition is exemplary most of the time, with only a few shots looking a touch soft. With no obvious signs of noise, halos, filtering, or age deterioration, the picture quality is hard to fault.
The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is hard to fault as well, except in the area of rear-channel surround. There is simply not as much activity in the side and back channels as one might expect of an action movie, with only a little musical ambient bloom making itself known. Otherwise, the upper midrange can get a trifle aggressive. Beyond that, you get clean, clear sonics, with a wide front-stage stereo spread, strong dynamics, and a reasonably deep bass.
There is isn't much in the way of extras on the disc. Two brief featurettes is about all there is. "Stunt Footage," a little over five minutes, provides some behind-the-scenes action shots, and "From the Cutting Room Floor," about three minutes, offers some outtakes with director comments.
In addition, there are sixteen scene selections, with bookmarks; a widescreen theatrical trailer in high def; English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish spoken languages and subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.
"The Peacemaker" is a frustrating picture in that it has all the ingredients to be a truly outstanding action thriller in the Bond or Bourne mold, yet it never quite achieves its ambitions, constantly distancing itself from the audience. There are just enough action sequences and just enough thrills for a viewer to feel momentarily satisfied and not completely cheated, but that's about it. Kind of a mixed bag.