Originally written for The Occidental.
When you think of George Clooney in movies, is the first thought in your mind, “wasn’t he in Batman & Robin? That sucked!” If so, do yourself a favor: press the “reset” button on your brain and go see The Peacemaker. I was prepared to suffer through it, bombarded by the kind of bad acting and lame script that marked the last Batman flick — but I was pleasantly surprised to find it a sold action movie that not only entertained me but stood up to some thought about it afterwards.
The Peacemaker (starring George Clooney and Nicole Kidman) has the basic components of a fun, but standard, action film: a strong and straightforward plot, a frightening villain, actors who can give some depth to their characters without looking like fools, a solid script, and just the right amount of special effects and mayhem. By adding to that mix an atypical male/female working relationship that doesn’t put our heroes in bed together by the second half of the film, The Peacemaker pulls itself out of the “standard action flick” category and into the “good action flick” category.
The plot, which involves cooperation between Colonel Thomas Devoe, a military officer (Clooney), and Dr. Julia Kelly, a scientist-bureaucrat (Kidman), to find a nuclear warhead stolen by a mysterious terrorist, is believable because it fits our times so well. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, almost an entire continent was thrown into barely controlled chaos — and within that chaos are men who own nuclear weapons. ON the more practical side, the plot allows for the requisite car chases, shoot-outs, moral searching, and suspense that are the hallmark of a fun action flick.
The villain is surprisingly well thought-out. He remains an unknown for a long time — no threats, no demands, just a missing bomb. When our heroes do finally find him, we learn why he’s doing what he’s doing, and can almost understand. A terrorist motivated — as this one is — by moral outrage is more frightening than one simply aiming for world domination because we can sympathize with him.
Both Clooney and Kidman are fairly new to the action genre (Batman & Robin wasn’t really action — it was closer to comedy). Both, however, are more than able to play characters with depth — people we can believe are real. Both Dr. Kelly and Colonel Devoe have different strengths, and they have to learn to work together in order to succeed — and Kidman and Clooney are able to show that development in between the edge-of-your-seat chases and games of cat-and-mouse. They are ably directed by Mimi Leder (also a newcomer to the action genre), which gives their competent acting a seamless quality that helps you forget that they’re actors and allows you to get wrapped up in the film.
With a film about nuclear weapons, there is always the danger that the script will get either overly technical and filled with scientific gobbledygook or will condescend as if the audience didn’t even know what a nuclear weapon was. The Peacemaker manages to avoid both extremes, and treat its audience as intelligent but not nuclear-physicist-candidate people.
The special effects pose a risk as well — all too many action films over-use specials and then have to constantly outdo themselves for the audience to be impressed. The Peacemaker is able to avoid that by using special effects only when necessary. As a result, when a nuclear bomb is detonated early in the film, it is impressive — and we have that memory to haunt us as Kelly and Devoe try to stop it from happening again. Likewise, the mayhem is kept to a relative minimum so that it retains its emotional impact. There is plenty of gunfire, but very little of the up-close-and-personal blood-everywhere violence that numbs the viewer (for an example of that, go see the film Hoodlum
The best part of the film is the relationship between the two heroes. I was sure that this was going to be a typical sort of action-movie relationship, with them falling in love between bouts of gunfire and having sex in some cheap motel while they waited for info on the bombs. What I found, however, was a genuine working relationship, with the woman in charge most of the time. Dr. Kelly is Colonel Devoe’s boss for the duration of the film (he gets assigned to her group as a military liaison). Although he is clearly the leader when the bullets are flying (Kelly has been in labs and meetings most of her life, as far as we can tell, and has little or no experience in that area), when it comes to dealing with the bombs themselves, or giving orders, the buck stops with Kelly — and Devoe accepts that. It was refreshing — no meaningful glances, no veiled innuendoes. All that stopped with Kelly’s invitation at the beginning of the film: “Want some coffee? It’s over there.” Unfortunately, this weakens a little in the last scene of the film, but up until then it’s fantastic.
So, what can I tell you about The Peacemaker? Well, if you like action movies or human interest dramas and enjoy seeing a woman who is at once competent and not a feminazi work with a man who is able to be violent but isn’t disgustingly macho, you’ll like it. I know I did.