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'Beyond Borders'

Timeline jumps in 'Borders'

Friday, October 24, 2003

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Beyond Borders" is a movie of grand gestures. It's as if someone plotted the story as a line graph -- up, down, way up, way down -- and plucked all the high points and shucked the low ones.

 
 

'Beyond Borders'

RATING: R for language and war-related violence

STARRING: Angelina Jolie, Clive Owen

DIRECTOR: Martin Campbell

   
 

That allows the filmmakers to launch the story in 1984 and then skip five or six years at a time, parachuting back into the characters' lives when momentous events occur and somehow assuming moviegoers won't wonder about the interludes. Now and then, I wondered.

"Beyond Borders," directed by Martin Campbell ("Vertical Limit" and "The Mask of Zorro"), opens at a tony London charity ball in 1984. An outraged doctor named Nick Callahan (Clive Owen), bursts into the black-tie event and, accompanied by a malnourished boy in tatters, castigates the partygoers for celebrating while thousands of Africans die of disease and starvation. Funding for his relief work has been cut, and he wants an audience and answers.

Nick is hauled off by the cops but his scornful speech leaves Sarah Jordan (Angelina Jolie), a newlywed American who is with her husband and wealthy in-laws, a changed woman. She eventually arranges to buy and accompany four trucks of supplies to Africa.

Once there, she encounters the harsh realities of drought, war, overcrowded refugee camps, compassion, fatigue and Nick, who ridicules her for wearing perfume in the desert and who suggests she can now get her picture of "rich white girl holds dying black baby." He also decrees it's too late for the barely alive mother and child she rescued along the way.

Nick eventually lets his guard down enough to demonstrate how much he cares for his patients and the spark of attraction between them is further fanned. She returns to England, where she gets a job for a relief organization, and he continues to hopscotch around the world. Events conspire to force them together, however, as Nick finds himself growing ever more desperate for relief money and Sarah finds herself ever more tied to home.

"Beyond Borders" allows Owen, an actor who usually trades on his cool reserve as in "Croupier," to burn with the intensity of a blowtorch. Jolie, of course, adopted a boy from Cambodia and has taken up humanitarian causes in real life, so it's easy to buy her as Sarah. Noah Emmerich lends a tender touch to his role as Nick's reasonable right-hand man, while Linus Roache is wasted as Sarah's husband and Teri Polo is a mismatch as Sarah's sister.

Writer Caspian Tredwell-Owen spent a couple of years interviewing workers from various aid organizations, went to Kosovo and seems to bring the camps to vivid life. But his screenplay dances around the shadowy presence of the CIA, the compromises inherent in Sarah's marriage and her family's roller-coaster fortunes. It dodges the harder questions and, in spite of sweeping locations, frames everything too tightly.

Despite the four-letter words, "Beyond Borders" is an old-fashioned story about lovers who have to weigh the greater good against their own happiness. The cause is noble, even if the storytelling is not.


Barbara Vancheri can be reached at bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632.

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