Peacemaker, The (United States, 1997)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

When the collaboration of Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and David Geffen on a new production company was first announced, it became the talk of the entertainment world. Soon, deals were being signed, contracts inked, and films placed into pre-production. Now, more than two years later, Dreamworks SKG is ready to release its first motion picture. Much is riding on the pairing of George Clooney and Nicole Kidman in The Peacemaker, a marginal thriller that isn't likely to electrify the early Autumn box office.

What we have here is basically one very long chase movie. The Peacemaker probably would have been a great deal more successful had the script been tightened and the running time trimmed. It's difficult for anyone to sustain tension and excitement for over two hours, and the task proves too difficult for first-time feature director Mimi Leder. The film contains its share of high octane moments (including a car chase through the streets of Vienna that turns into a combination of high-speed bumper cars and chicken), but there are too many times when the proceedings drag. By the time The Peacemaker reaches its long-overdue climax in the streets of New York, we just want things to wrap up.

The Peacemaker has the globe-trotting approach of a James Bond film, although no one is going to mistake the straightforward, sometimes-crass approach of George Clooney's Colonel Thomas Devoe for the suave style of 007. Nevertheless, Leder keeps the film moving from place-to-place, taking in such sites as Sarajevo, the Ural Mountains, Vienna, Turkey, and, of course, the United States. The paper-thin plot has high-ranking assistant-to-the-President Dr. Julia Kelly (Nicole Kidman) and Devoe on the trail of a group of Russian terrorists who have stolen nine nuclear warheads and appear willing to sell them to the highest bidder (the price tag is somewhere around $200 million). The most dangerous potential buyer is a Serb/Croat (he identifies himself as both) named Duson (Marcel Iures), who blames the West for the slaughter in his country and wants to use a bomb to exact payment in blood. For most of the film, Kelly and Devoe are running around trying to stop someone from blowing up one of the weapons.

Nicole Kidman has a pretty thankless job here. She's supposed to be playing a tough, intelligent, aggressive go-getter, but she spends most of her time in the background while George Clooney mugs for the camera or engages in heroics. Clooney's a pleasant enough actor, and he fares much better here than in Batman and Robin, but it seems to me that he's more suited to lighter material than this. One Fine Day wasn't a great movie, but it contained Clooney's best feature performance to date. As an action star, Clooney isn't likely to challenge the likes of Schwarzenegger or Connery (then again, he can act circles around Steven Seagal -- but so can just about anyone).

The Peacemaker is a very violent film, with the gore (but not the artistry) of something by Tarantino or Scorsese. There are numerous closeups of bloody, shot-up corpses. Plus, thrown in for good measure, there's a train wreck, a missile attack on a helicopter, and a nuclear explosion. The body count in this film is easily among the highest of the year, but there's a surprising lack of creativity in the way people die. Those that don't get blown up end up with a bullet in their head.

The script lets us down significantly on at least two occasions. In the first place, a great deal is made about the potential ramifications of a certain "international incident" that takes place midway through the film. However, immediately after the action takes place, the entire matter is dropped. I for one would have liked to have seen at least some of the political fallout from this event. Secondly, attempts to humanize the villain are ill-advised. There's not enough here to make him a sympathetic individual; as a result, most of these scenes come across as filler. In movies like this, it's usually best to have the bad guy be a megalomaniac rather than a figure who could have walked out of one of Shakespeare's tragedies.

The Peacemaker isn't much better or worse than the average James Bond movie, except, of course, that it doesn't have the cars, the gadgets, the girls, or Bond himself. There's a certain appeal to the premise, but the execution is uneven. The movie is likely to keep an audience's attention, but it's the kind of film that is quickly forgotten. As the debut feature of a new production company, it isn't likely to be an unmitigated failure, but neither will it prove to be a stunning financial success. Despite all the bullets, bodies, and bangs, Dreamworks is not off to a flying start.

Peacemaker, The (United States, 1997)

Run Time: 2:03
U.S. Release Date: 1997-09-26
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1