In 1997, George Clooney wasn’t George Clooney. He wasn’t an elite A-list thespian winning as many awards for his acting as his humanitarian efforts. Not yet.
Instead, anyone who knew the name George Clooney probably recognized it as belonging to Dr. Doug Ross from the hit television show ER, or, if he was really unlucky, as the latest actor to play Bruce Wayne in June’s Batman and Robin. Luckily for Clooney and his fans, just a year after The Peacemaker made its less than blockbuster opening in September 1997, the future Oscar winner’s career took off. There’s a reason, though, it didn’t happen a year sooner.
The Peacemaker is far from a bad film. Though slightly oversimplified, the political action flick takes itself seriously enough to create two effects. The first is that the film runs a little long and a little boring. Circling around the theft of Russian nuclear weapons and their planned detonation in New York City, the plot is a bit stale. Clooney plays Lt. Col. Thomas Devoe, a hotheaded but charming army officer assigned to help Dr. Julia Kelly (Nicole Kidman) make sense of a train collision and the resulting nuclear explosion in Russia.
Devoe is your typical soldier, aside from his overly talkative nature and movie star looks. Kelly is your typical female bureaucrat who wants to be taken seriously (no exceptions here). Yes, Kidman is a stunner, as always, but all the good lines go to Clooney while our female lead is simply asked to look tough, be serious, and basically act like a royal pain in the ass. Her character never steps outside of a characterization despite the talented actor’s best efforts.
As the duo tracks down leads all over the world, the pace begins to strike a more agreeable gait. The Peacemaker finds its stride once the tires hit the fire, even though it takes almost an hour for anything other than dumbed-down dialogue to occur (subtracting the hijacking that opens the film). The simplified political action flick certainly takes its time making sure all the pretty much meaningless political jargon is understood. This would be better appreciated if the explanations and clarifications were more succinct. Instead, they are as drawn out and tedious as the past few sentences (yeah, they could be better, but I’m making a point here!).
It doesn’t bring the movie to a halt, but the film doesn’t take its words as seriously as its story, and when the story is as dated as this one, the combination bogs down the film. When the action picks up, though, so does the rest of the movie. Director Mimi Leder finally takes into account the old cinema adage of “show, don’t tell.” She does so just in time, too. It may be the easy way out in a supposed political thriller to throw in some fighting, car chases, and explosions, but it sure cuts down the dialogue.
Now before everyone starts calling me an “action junkie” who can’t appreciate intelligent films, let me be clear – I love Syriana. There isn’t a more politics-heavy, dialogue dense film than the 2005 dramatic thriller starring Clooney. This is not that movie, though.
The Peacemaker is simply a way for the star to reach his goals and create his later works. As much as it wants to be a bigger deal than it is, Clooney’s earlier work is still a lesser one than his later effort. It never turns into exactly what it wants – a serious film with relatable real world implications – but its harsh nature does have another benefit.
The second result of The Peacemaker’s dour tone is an extremely enthralling, if slightly loose, climax. The images of the NYPD and FBI swarming downtown Manhattan looking for the attacker are unsettling, yes, but they succeed in creating an appropriate sense of scale for the attack. Clooney and Kidman race through Manhattan searching for a man carrying a nuclear bomb in his backpack. They study maps, drive cars, jump over cars, and run on top of cars.
Everyone does it, not just the two stars (in fact, Kidman is largely absent from the chase until the end). The visuals here really serve the magnitude of the story Leder wanted to tell all along. The sheer swarm of people establishes half of the aimed atmosphere while Leder’s quick cuts and upped adrenaline cover the rest. Perhaps it was the wait that made it all the more exciting, but either way, it’s a welcomed finalé.
Luckily for Leder, a pretty good ending usually makes up for the uneven ride. The supplemental features don’t do the best job illustrating the journey, but the two non-HD docs included on the Blu-ray do give a short glimpse at the stars behind the scenes. “Stunt Footage” and “From the Cutting Room Floor” do nothing else, but I really can’t imagine anyone wanting anything more after watching the movie.
The Peacemaker may not be a sharp thriller for modern times, but as an early vehicle for Clooney and providing entertaining escapism, it works. It’s not tight. It’s not overly witty. It’s not even pertinent to the current social climate. It’s kind of a Frankenstein’s monster of better movies from both its influential genres, thus explaining why it never found an audience upon its initial release. Yet it still gets just enough of the good scraps to form a decent-looking final product – even if it’s not as gorgeous as its stars.