Friday, September 24, 2010

"The Peacemaker" (1997)

Starring George Clooney, Nicole Kidman and Marcel Iures
Written by Michael Schiffer
Directed by Mimi Leder

Let's face it: George Clooney might be a huge mega-star today, but when he decided to move on from being the star of TV's "ER" and get into the film biz, he had a bit of a rough start.  "Batman and Robin" is widely derided not only as the worst Batman movie, but as a terrible movie overall, "From Dusk til Dawn" will forever remain a cult film, and "One Fine Day" won't go down in history as anyone's favorite romance.

But then there's 1997's "The Peacemaker," probably the first film to really prove that Clooney had the charisma to carry a film when paired with a script and a director capable of putting together a good package.  Clooney stars as Lt. Col. Tom Devoe, in pursuit of a Russian general, Kodoroff (Aleksandr Baluev) who has gone rogue and stolen 10 nuclear warheads.

"The Peacemaker" opens with this hijacking as a team of special ops guys sneaks aboard a military train, murders the crew and steals the warheads.  They set one off as a smokescreen to cover their escape, and the blast captures the attention of the entire world.  Enter Dr. Julia Kelly (Nicole Kidman), who is tasked by the US government to head the investigation into the blast.  Devoe is assigned as her military liaison, and the two quickly set about cutting through all the bureaucracy and international mistrust to find the missing nine warheads.

With the help of Devoe's Russian military contact, Dimitri (Armin Mueller-Stahl), they manage to track down the trucks used to transport the warheads, and eventually Kodoroff.  But Kodoroff isn't the end of the story: one warhead is still missing.  The movie climaxes with a lengthy and intense chase through the streets of New York City as terrorists attempt to use the remaining nuke to blow up the United Nations.

Make no mistakes, "The Peacemaker" is no great triumph of originality.  It's loaded with all kinds of cliches that under the guidance of a less talented director probably would've broken the back of the entire film.  So while the script is in fact the weakest part of "The Peacemaker," every other aspect of it manages to shine and overcome it.  The action sequences are cleverly constructed, the cast is on their game, and tight editing and Hans Zimmer's intense score really pump up what "The Peacemaker" has to offer.

Clooney plays Devoe loose and just a little goofy, but he's got that wry smile and twinkle in his eye that's hard not to pay attention to.  The man has serious movie star presence, and you can feel the beginnings of it here.  This is years before he would make major splashes with films like "Ocean's 11."  Nicole Kidman doesn't fare as well, her character is almost entirely overshadowed by Clooney's but the two work well enough together and the film is smart enough to not try and shoehorn them into some kind of awkwardly-timed romance.  The villains are also not entirely devoid of humanity; their reasons for doing what they do can be sympathized with, even if the things they do are terrible.  It lends a bit more heft to the proceedings rather than the sort of mustache-twirling black hats that could easily have been inserted here. 

"The Peacemaker" is definitely an action film, with car chases, gun and fistfights abound.  A car chase through Vienna is cleverly constructed, relying instead on Devoe's wits rather than weaving through highway traffic and squealing around corners.  It's more like a demolition derby, in fact, and Clooney maintains a cool air throughout, lending him a bit of badass.  The final chase through New York is massive and tense.  It deflates a little when the ultimate confrontation has the two heroes defusing a ticking bomb at the last second (yawn) but ultimately, the whole thing is worthwhile.

This movie is simply solidly constructed entertainment, and 13 years later it serves as an interesting time capsule: We get to look back at the beginning of Clooney's film career, and we also get to have some fun at the same time.