In 1995, Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and David Geffen formed a partnership in a new production/distribution company called Dreamworks SKG. Now, two years later, comes the first theatrical release from this new company, just behind two other brand new upstarts, Polygram Filmed Entertainment (which recently released "The Game") and Live Entertainment ("Wes Craven's Wishmaster"). Entering into an already crowded theatrical market, Dreamworks SKG is planning to release twelve high-profile theatrical properties a year, building on the solid creative talents of Spielberg (for event pictures) and Katzenberg (for animation). In order to maximize efficiency to ensure its survival in the long-run, Dreamworks SKG has implemented some innovative policies and impressive information technology-- administration-reducing fixed percentage co-op advertising with exhibitors, and a sophisticated tracking system for automating the shipping of all materials: trailers, prints, and promotional materials. But all that aside, the key success factor in this business is the product. It is the film property that will make or break any company.
The peacemakers must be made to feel pain.
"The Peacemaker" is the product, the much-hyped and much-anticipated first release. It is also a bit of a stumble. Featuring two alumnae from the "E.R." television series (actor George Clooney and director Mimi Leder), it opens promisingly enough with a great action sequence where Russian terrorists, using all sorts of neat hardware, steal nuclear warheads from a moving train and set one off to cover their tracks. While the majority of the nuclear devices are headed for a cash-for-used-nukes deal in Iran, an operation coordinated by a Cold War-throwback General Alexsander Kodoroff (Alexander Baluev), one of the devices is diverted to New York, where it will be used to vaporize the United Nations. It is an act of revenge by Dusan Gavrich (Marcel Iures), a Serbian in Bosnia-Herzegovina who feels that the UN-mandated peace settlements in his native country, which forced the Serbs, Croats, and Muslims to live together despite their long-standing discords, ultimately led to the shooting death of his wife and daughter. Of course, Dusan forgets that it was the Radovan Karadzic-led Serbian aggressors that started the war in the first place, rejecting the establishment of an independent egalitarian multi-ethnic Bosnia-Herzegovina, with assistance from Slobodan Milosevic's Serbian government in Belgrade and the remnants of the Serbian-controlled Yugoslav National Army. But this is a Hollywood movie, after all.
I didn't join the Russian Army to see it dismantled by the Americans.
Neither did I, but the world is changing. We must change with it.
Enter two Americans to save the world from this nuclear terror (USA! USA!): Dr. Julia Kelly (Nicole Kidman), acting head of the White House Nuclear Smuggling Group who reports directly to the President, and Col. Thomas Devoe (Clooney), a member of the Special Forces. Kelly is a politician, equating the act of saying something with having it done-- she has lived a sheltered life in the laboratories, offices, and meeting rooms of the world, and is removed from the gritty harsh realities of the violent world around her. Devoe is the antithesis of Kelly, being a sometimes brutal man of action who isn't afraid to rack'em, stack'em, and whack'em. Together this mismatched duo must chase the terrorists through Eastern Europe, with the requisite gunplay and bloodshed, and they finally end up in a race-against-the-clock on the streets of New York (in what may be the most drawn-out seven minutes in movie time I have ever seen).
Being essentially a drawn-out chase picture, "The Peacemaker" leaves a lot of room for improvement. Nicole Kidman is essentially wasted in this movie, since she is not allowed to do very much other than being a foil to Clooney's man of action, with the occasional token flash of brilliance. The dialogue mostly consists of information-intensive rapid-fire exposition and barked commands. Though the story does have its roots in the ethnic conflict of the Balkans, the subject-matter is merely glossed-over by the script, which doesn't really provide a credible basis for Dusan's motivations (much like the lame motivation ascribed to Dafoe's character in "Speed 2: Cruise Control"). The characters of Kelly and Devoe are shallow with character arcs that barely register-- in fact, it is perhaps the villain, Dusan, that is the closest to a three-dimensional character in this movie (not that he is one, but he is close). And when the characters do emote, what comes out seems forced (especially Kidman).
No, this movie is about high-octane thrills, and it does deliver in that department. From a nail-biting sequence where Devoe attempts to retrieve the warheads with three attack helicopters to the logistical nightmare of trying to find one man in a crowd of thousands in rush hour in New York, you certainly won't be falling asleep.
Finally, the style of "The Peacemaker" suffers from a split-personality. You are bound to get whiplash from the "Homicide: Life on the Streets" school-of-film-making, with its constantly moving camera, free-hand shots, and jump-cutting, and the requisite violence and gore (perhaps more than the usual amount for an event picture). However, the movie is also punctuated by some attempts at auteurism-- striking cinematography of European landscapes and cityscapes, and some truly inspired 'epic' scenes, such as a mass exodus of refugees passing by the truck with the stolen nuclear weapons. Coupled with the haunting soundtrack, these few inspired moments envelop the picture in a very bleak atmosphere.
It is an okay effort for the new production company and will probably place millions in their coffers. Though it pretends to have some basis in reality, its 'current affairs-lite' approach is in a way insulting to the audience, and seems to plagiarize on the tragedy of the downfall of Eastern Europe without providing any sort of emotional core. Perhaps Dreamworks SKG will redeem themselves with its next release, the Spielberg-directed "Amistad", a slave-ship drama starring Morgan Freeman. If you're into spectacular thrills, "The Peacemaker" will satisfy you-- just don't expect anything else.