14 November 2004 | Buddy-51
Good intentions; appalling treatment
No one can accuse 'Beyond Borders' of not having its heart in the right place. After all, how many mainstream American movies so much as acknowledge the existence of starving people in the world, let alone make them the centerpiece of their stories? For its willingness to do that, the film deserves a certain amount of genuine praise. Unfortunately, having gone this far, the filmmakers then cheapen it all by pasting onto the film a corny, superficial love story more appropriate to a Harlequin Romance than an ostensibly serious social drama.
Angelina Jolie plays a United Nations relief worker who flits from one worldwide trouble spot to another - Africa, Cambodia, Chechnya - dispensing aid and carrying on an adulterous affair with a handsome field doctor (played by Clive Owen) whom she met several years earlier (the film takes place in the 1980's and '90's). It's a little hard to take seriously the extreme plight of these suffering people when Sarah and Nick are making goo-goo eyes at one another in between saving lives and delivering inspirational, we-are-the-world speeches. As with so many movies of this type, the put-upon, indigenous people become little more than extras in their own story, a mere backdrop for the trite personal drama occupying center stage. It's as if American audiences couldn't possibly find any interest or relevance in all this misery if we didn't have some well-fed, well-scrubbed white people serving as our guide to get us through it all. I'm sure that the last thing the people who made this movie intended was to in any way demean the incredible efforts done by relief workers around the world, yet that is exactly what they end up doing by forcing all this heartbreaking human tragedy through the funnel of a hackneyed love story.
The moments of highest interest come when we see the incredible amount of power politics that goes on even when it comes to delivering food and medicine to dying people - although the filmmakers don't always make those complicated logistics entirely clear for the lay audience. We often can't tell what exactly is happening on a socio political level that's preventing the aid from getting through. A little less time spent on the romance and a little more on the behind-the-scenes aspects of the story would have gone a long way towards redeeming the film. Unfortunately, there's something almost comical about the sight of Sarah and Nick, nattily dressed and perfectly coiffed, making passionate love amidst the rubble and ruin of war torn Chechnya.
Jolie and Owen turn in relatively lackluster performances, not entirely their fault given the stock characters they play and the bland dialogue they've been assigned to deliver. Jolie has one basic expression throughout - that of teary-eyed sympathy and concern - that wears awfully thin after awhile.
The filmmakers are highly critical of all those well-off people who merely pay lip service to helping Third World causes but who are really only concerned with salving their own guilty consciences (the film begins at one of those lavish fund raising dinners with everyone dressed to the nines and enjoying a sumptuous banquet while they're giving one another awards for great humanitarian achievements for helping to eradicate poverty and hunger). Yet, by treating the material as if it were some sort of bourgeois romantic fantasy, the movie makers are, in many ways, doing the very same thing they accuse the elite snobs of doing - which is making misery palatable and easily digestible for the complacent, self-satisfied masses.
'Beyond Borders' is, obviously, a labor of love for all those involved in its making. That is turns out to be a misfire of almost laughably bad proportions is, perhaps, the greatest tragedy of all.