ninth symphony films - movie reviews


DIRECTOR  -  mark campbell

RATED  -  r

GENRE  -  adventure

LENGTH  -  127 minutes

RELEASED  -  24 october 2003

DISTRIBUTOR  -  paramount pictures

OFFICIAL SITE  -  beyond borders

ESTIMATED BUDGET  -  $35,000,000
beyond borders - a shot from the film


buy the dvd from beyond borders at

buy the dvd from beyond borders at

a sheltered american socialite meets a dedicated doctor who travels to the front lines of the world's most poor and turbulent nations.

catherine zeta-jones and meg ryan had both once been considered for the lead role.


picture from beyond borders

picture from beyond borders

picture from beyond borders


two out of four possible stars

Both beautiful and harsh to observe, Beyond Borders is a graphic and usually moving story whose main character romance doesn't take the center stage often enough. Though the relationship between the main characters ("Sarah Jordan," played by Angelina Jolie and "Nick Callahan," played by Clive Owen) is ever changing, one can't help but want to see their relationship evolve with each of them in the same frame rather than in different scenes on different continents. It's easy to believe the love these two characters develop is a real and unbending commitment to one another, but as the beating heart of the story, sometimes that beat is too faint.

Highlighting the graphically bloody and harrowing circumstances in which many Third World citizens live is a job for a documentary filmmaker and too often, the facts and figures presented by the characters seem too rehearsed. The idea of a "talking head," wherein a documentary an interviewee is placed in front of the camera for a static or sit-down interview, comes to mind often when the characters are confronting danger both domestically and abroad (the domestic portion being located in England). The facts about racial genocide, drought, and starvation are stark and disturbing, but for having included these figures in what is supposed to be a dramatic piece of storytelling, their impact is lessened by the long recital of figures by various actors.

But if one is willing to digest all of the cold, hard information thrown at the viewer, it's and easy task to find gripping and passionate performances from each of the main and supporting characters. Regardless of the success of her movies, Jolie performs well consistently in all her roles and as "Sarah," she doesn't disappoint. While the storyline becomes rather dramatic in many scenes, calling the picture a "melodrama" isn't necessarily a derogatory comment. If anything, Jolie and her co-stars carry the heavy material well, though with the desperate circumstances highlighted in the war-torn nations featured in the film, some humor would have been welcome.

Clive Owens' performance is as equally affecting, and as Nick he displays an admirable passion for his work. His struggle to stay on the "straight and narrow" during his efforts to save his patients creates an interesting dynamic for the character, though his relationship with CIA operative, "Stieger," played by Yorick van Wageningen, is a difficult one to decipher. Van Wageningen apparently doesn't count clear enunciation as a performance essential, so sometimes it's impossible to understand what the actor is saying, even though he speaks English throughout the entire film.

The other minor players in the film, including Noah Emmerich, as Nick’s partner in refugee operations, in what is possibly the most "likeable" role in the film, are also handled well, with other various refugee volunteer characters who both provide strength and a small amount of humor. But though that humor could definitely have been touched up a notch in some areas, the filmmakers may have perceived a threat to the realistic portrayal of their refugee camps and gun-toting bandits. The blood and the guns and the stench of death might not have seemed as urgent if the film had included additional scenes of mirth (however innocent or timely they might have seemed).

When the cinematography threatens to take over the film, which happens more than once due to the varied locations in which the film takes place (Chechnya, Ethiopia, Cambodia), one cannot fault the director of photography in the least. In photographing the acrid desert conditions of Ethiopia and the stifling jungles of Cambodia, Phil Meheux, the cinematographer, makes each location unique and beautiful to look at (and listen to, as the score, composed by James Horner, is as varied and beautiful as the vistas). Which is sometimes important, given the larger than life narrative and the rather large ideas put forth in the film.

And that idea probably presents the largest hurdle in the film that viewers will have to jump. Aspects such as story and character take a back seat too often to the larger, more impressive details of refugee work and the conditions of the people living in Cambodia and elsewhere. If the overall production (including cinematography and story) had concentrated more on the personal story of Owens and Jolie's characters, the facts and figures of the abused people might have been easier and less history book-like to digest.

The filmmakers didn't make a clear decision on whether they wanted to make a documentary or a dramatic film, and both sides of the struggle suffer because of it. Unless audience members come to the film seeking specifically to learn about the people in places like Ethiopia, they might find themselves wondering why the main characters' story is even included. As a statement on refugee conditions, the film is quite effective with its high production values and expertly done make-up, but as a dramatic piece, the film isn't always as passionate as it should be.

Review by Kelsey Wyatt.

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