reviewed by Steve Sailer
UPI, October 27, 2003
While watching "Beyond Borders," Angelina Jolie's romantic melodrama about sexy famine-relief workers, it's easy to imagine an assistant director shouting through his megaphone: "Miss Jolie is ready for her close-up. Cue the starving masses."
Jolie, once famous as a promising actress, then notorious as some kind of sicko celebrity obsessed with knives, tattoos, blood, and her brother, had her conscience sparked while filming the first "Tomb Raider" videogame movie in Cambodia. She later described how the horror of the landmine problem was driven home "in the middle of the night when I had to go use the bathroom in the bushes and was not really sure where the path was." She adopted a Cambodian baby, built a house in that tragic land, and has become a goodwill ambassador for the U.N.
It's easy to make fun of her -- as everybody will -- but the tedium of her performance in "Beyond Borders" stems from her sincerity. I don't know a solution for the horrors of the world, so I'm not going to hold it against Jolie that she's out there at least trying. I just wish this were a better movie.
Jolie plays an American who in 1984 is freshly married to a London stockbroker of the Hon. Crispin Pallid-Chinless ilk. Her eyes well up with tears (for the first of about 35 times in the film), however, when she is lectured by a strong-jawed, smoldering doctor (portrayed by Clive Owen of "Croupier") who runs a camp for starving Ethiopians. So, she brings him a convoy of rations, but he treats our heroine rudely, just like the handsome rogue does at the beginning of every romance novel since "Pride and Prejudice."
Namibia's Kalahari Desert stands in for Marxist Ethiopia. While the English volunteers desperately drill for water, Jolie uses a big bowl of water to wash her quite clean feet, perhaps to symbolize that she is Mary Magdalene and Jesus rolled into one. Or something.
After a few days, she goes back to London and takes a job with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Then every half decade she leaves her cheating hubby and charming kids behind to consort with the noble and hunky doctor in other frontrunners in the Worst Place in the World Contest. (Meanwhile, screenwriter Caspian Tredwell-Owen and actor Yorick van Wageningen compete for the Goofiest Name in the Credits.)
Thailand impersonates a remote section of Cambodia still controlled by the genocidal Khmer Rouge in 1989. In the film's only joke, when a Khmer Rouge colonel throws the doctor to the ground and points his pistol at his head, Jolie, who has been an utter limp noodle so far, distracts the executioner by furiously kicking the poor doctor. The soldiers smile at each other as if to say, "Cool! It's Lara Croft. I've got her on my Gameboy."
Then, in the most intense performance, one modeled after "The Deer Hunter," a vicious Khmer Rouge officer so in need of orthodontia that he looks like shark with two rows of teeth, hands a baby a grenade to play with.
Wintry Canada impersonates post-Soviet Grozny in Chechnya in 1995. Director Martin Campbell ("Goldeneye") portrays it as your basic apocalyptic urban killzone made more novel-looking by three feet of snow.
The countries Jolie visits on her errands of mercy don't look so hot, but she always looks fabulous. In the desert, she wears flowing white linen like Lawrence of Arabia; in the jungle, a black muscle undershirt like Rambo; and in the snow, an adorable fur hat like Dr. Zhivago's Lara.
The five-year gaps between the acts undermine both the passion and the compassion. Lots of film romances, such as "Casablanca," have been set amidst exotic refugees, but "Beyond Borders" is sapped by how Jolie periodically leaves the doctor and his suffering charges and just goes home to a nice house in England for a few years.
Further, Americans moviegoers now disapprove more strongly of adultery, especially by someone with children, than they did a quarter of a century ago. So many members of Kurt Cobain's generation grew up in broken homes that infidelity is now considered not sophisticated, but selfish.
"Beyond Borders" seems aimed more at secular Europeans, who idolize non-governmental organizations (NGOs) like Doctors Without Borders. In contrast, most Americans who go abroad to help the poor are affiliated with churches.
Secular Americans, in contrast to secular Europeans, aren't too interested in personally helping the Third World, perhaps because we have so much diversity at home.
Further, nice white liberals will be uneasy because the film's aid workers are white. A generation ago, Sidney Poitier would have been cast as the doctor's best friend, but that's now considered a condescending cliché, so there's no real solution. It's complicated being a nice white liberal these days.