Directed by: Martin Campbell
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Clive Owen, Noah Emmerich, Teri Polo
Beyond Borders is advertised as a romantic epic, but don't disillusion yourself that you're in for some warm Valentine fuzzies. The movie is really a heart-wrenching overview of the plight of war-ravaged refugees around the world; Beyond Borders' love story is only the intermittent personal thread that connects the global hotspots. And while it's really good when the two lovers finally lock lips after many years and terrible tragedies have kept them chastely apart, you're too overwhelmed by the images of starving masses to really muster up any desire for vicarious sexual pleasure.
In 1985, Sarah Jordan (Angelina Jolie, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider) is a London newlywed whose upper-class in-laws are key fundraisers for famine-relief organizations. Dr. Nick Callahan (Clive Owen, I'll Sleep When I'm Dead), just off the plane from Africa, charges into a gala black-tie event. He shames the revelers with his passionate, hands-on dedication to helping the Ethiopian people where they really need the help -- in the hot, dry hell of their homeland, not in a fancy European banquet hall. For Ethiopians, suffering is a 24-hour-a-day reality, Callahan tells them: Westerners can't imagine what courage it takes to suffer so much and still want to stay alive.
Shocked out of her complacency, Sarah journeys to Ethiopia, where Nick and his loyal co-workers are shown toiling unceasingly. Among them is Dr. Callahan's project manager, Elliot (Noah Emmerich, Windtalkers), a hulky American Buddhist whose heart is as big as his shoulders. (As far as I'm concerned, Sarah should have fallen in love with him instead of the foul-mouthed, brooding doctor. Emmerich is a star in the making.)
Images from the refugee camp in Ethiopia (shot on the other side of the African continent in Namibia) will be seared in your memory. It's impossible to enjoy your buttered popcorn and Milk Duds when you know you're snacking on three times as many calories as Ethiopians would get in a week. As usual in war-torn third-world countries, corruption is rampant, and the monstrous soldiers and bureaucrats steal food and medicine from their hapless brethren. Forever changed by what she's seen, Sarah returns to London, while Nick forges on "without certainty or security," continuing his arduous humanitarian efforts.
Five years later, Sarah and Nick meet in Cambodia (shot in Thailand). She's a UN worker; he's a doctor trying to save a village targeted by Khmer Rouge killers. Desperate for money, Nick entangles himself with the CIA, and carries guns along with medicine into the jungle. He's found out, with tragic consequences.
Six years later, back in London and now the mother of two children, Sarah learns from her TV-reporter sister (Teri Polo, Domestic Disturbance) that Nick is in terrible danger, this time in Chechnya (shot in Montreal). Sarah leaves her husband and two children and sneaks into Russia to rescue Nick, who's being held for ransom by rebels. She finds him so near death that only revealing a secret to him revives him enough to try to walk the four miles across the deep snow to safety in a Red Cross center.
Love triumphs -- but that doesn't mean they all live happily ever after. Be warned: The ending's a shocker. But such an ending gives validity to the whole movie, removing it from cliche status and leaving the viewer breathless.
Soon, many of us will be celebrating our American abundance with tables laden with tasty goodies, going to sleep in our warm beds without worry of being hacked to pieces in the morning. Beyond Borders reminds us how thankful we really ought to be.
-- reviewed by Marci Miller