Beyond Borders (2003)


(director: Martin Campbell; screenwriter: Caspian Tredwell-Owen; cinematographer: Phil Meheux; editor: Nicholas Beauman; music: James Horner; cast: Angelina Jolie (Sarah Jordan), Clive Owen (Dr. Nick Callahan), Teri Polo (Charlotte Jordan), Linus Roache (Henry Bauford), Noah Emmerich (Elliott Hauser), Keelan Anthony (Jojo), Yorick Van Wageningen (Steiger); Runtime: 127; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Dan Halsted and Lloyd Phillips; Paramount Pictures; 2003)

It was sheer drudgery to sit through two hours of this offensive slop.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

It was sheer drudgery to sit through two hours of this offensive slop. Director Martin Campbell (“The Mask of Zorro”/”Vertical Limits”) stepped on a land mine with this hokey adventure/romance story about dedicated relief workers. The melodrama had about as much integrity and feeling as an infomercial. It’s a patronizing tale about a white woman in Africa cradling starving black children in her arms (they were made to look in a state of starvation through CGI effects). The bleeding heart liberal woman leaves Africa and goes to two other Third World countries to do her humanitarian thing in this clich√© driven Hollywood script. “Borders” travels from Ethiopia to Cambodia and Chechnya, and succeeds only in making everything vulgar about the very real plight of the refugees. The film on its long journey to nowhere ran out of discernible reasons to focus on the refugees and became a straight star-guided vehicle selling its Saturday matinee mindless action picture formulaic story. It manages to wring exploitative nonsensical tales from both the climates of sweltering Africa and the frigid cold of Eastern Europe, which is no small accomplishment. By taking a real modern day dilemma about the impoverished throughout the world and basically using them as props to tell a crazed egotistical adventure story and a star-crossed lover’s tale that is superficial and hardly believable while taking itself so seriously and being so humorless, is just bad filmmaking. If for argument’s sake you believe its intentions were good, its results weren’t. By the end we were made to forget about the refugees as they were trivialized into props and held up for exploitation as emaciated figures, and our undivided attention became focused on the self-absorbed lovers and their ridiculous affair. The lovers were so coldly portrayed, that I could care less about them and their self-absorbed sentiments to save the world.

One-dimensional Dr. Nick Callahan (Clive Owen) angrily barges in on a wealthy charity hotel bash for the AID Relief International in the London of 1984. The angry doctor brings with him a young starving Ethiopian boy named Jojo dressed in shredded rags and rants to the audience about how they’re pigs and care more about their champagne than in helping those in need. This rant touches art-gallery worker Sarah (Angelina Jolie) with guilt-feelings, as she’s tearfully watching this showboating display in the audience. Sarah’s an attractive American just married to a mousy upper-class Englishman named Henry Bauford (Linus Roache), as the society wife becomes so deeply affected that she leaves her nice businessman Henry for about a month to go alone to Ethiopia and bring bad boy Dr. Nick a convoy of trucks carrying grain to save the refugees from the severe drought. After some hardships in Africa, she ends up a true believer in the cause but returns to London to become a mother of a son and a U. N. worker. Her marriage turns into a loveless affair, so Sarah retreats for the next five years into playing melancholy Schumann tunes on the piano and wringing her hands for a word from the ruggedly handsome Dr. Nick. When Nick’s point man, the good-hearted Buddhist Elliott Hauser (Noah Emmerich) calls on her in London and seeks help through her U.N. contacts for a sticky situation with the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, Sarah volunteers to help in person. But helping Nick out turns dangerous, as he gets involved with a shady CIA gunrunner named Steiger (Wageningen) in order to bankroll his relief aid. The altruistic Nick chanced getting money this way for aid, as he felt the situation was so desperate that if he didn’t take that risk there would be many deaths before the international community would help. When Nick gets out of that dangerous situation with his life Sarah returns to London to have a daughter, whose father is Dr. Nick. Going on with her strained marriage in 1995, she lives only for her children and the cause and letters from Nick. When she senses something is wrong with her Dr. Nick after not hearing from him for a while, she learns through her do-gooder journalist sister Charlotte’s (Polo) newspaper contacts that he’s in Chechnya but can’t be located. Sarah now puts on a Russian fur hat and leaves her Henry to go rescue her man from a hostage situation, even though Charlotte warns that she’s going to a dangerous place. This finale was so ludicrous that I believe even Abbott and Costello would have come up with a more credible script if they had to make this pic.

Nothing worked for me, as the characters were shrill and the story was insulting. The acting was one-note, and the star lovers had no chemistry together. It was hard to believe that they fell in love with anything but their self-righteous humanitarianism, as their supposed passionate physical love never came across on the screen. There was just nothing about this misplaced humanistic tale that was glamorous or real or poignant. It shouldn’t have been made, but since it was–it should have tried for comedy because in the end it had nothing worthwhile to say anyway about refugees or the lovers. Its intention might have been to raise awareness of Third World poverty, but all it seemed to do was annoy as the main characters were too superficial for this viewer to give a second thought about them and the refugees were abandoned long before the climax for the overly pious humanistic message to resonate. But I’m thankful about one item I learned from the gossip columns–I can only surmise that it could have been worse if Clive Owen hadn’t taken over the role of Nick from a fired Kevin Costner.