Paramount // 1997 // 124 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // September 21st, 2010
How do you get the world's attention?
Let me take you back, dear reader, to the heady days of 1997. In those strange, backwater times the great George Clooney was still known primarily as a hunky doctor on E.R.. His forays onto the big screen had impressed cult fans (in From Dusk Till Dawn) and annoyed the comic book crowd (in Batman and Robin), but he'd yet to hook up with the man who would demonstrate his full potential, Steven Soderbergh, for Out of Sight. In between these extremes he worked with veteran director Mimi Leder and silver screen siren Nicole Kidman for some old-school action hijinks in The Peacemaker. The result is a solid entry for all involved. Even if The Peacemaker (Blu-ray) is just a straight port of a so-so DVD release, the film is worth watching for action fans.
As The Peacemaker opens, someone on the inside of the Russian military is working to explode a nuclear device being transported on a Russian train. When the smoke clears, Lt. Colonel Thomas Devoe (George Clooney, Out of Sight) and Dr. Julia Kelly (Nicole Kidman, Australia) put two and two together and realize that the explosion wasn't a terrorist act but a cover so that the other nuclear weapons on the train could be stolen and sold. Now Devoe and Kelly have to track down the missing nukes, a job which will take them all over the world in a race against time.
Although it wasn't intentional, I sat down to watch The Peacemaker on the anniversary of September 11th. Considering the film's plots of nuclear terrorism and U.S. intervention, it seemed an appropriate moment to reflect. However, rather than reflecting on terrorism or life post-9/11, The Peacemaker got me thinking about how they don't make action films like they used to. I'm not usually one to decry "MTV-style editing" or anything like that, but there's a definite old school vibe to The Peacemaker that's refreshing. The film opens with a 10-plus minute scene that plays nearly silently as we see the Russian nukes hijacked and the train exploded. It's a tight, tense scene that kept me riveted, but also exactly the kind of scene you're unlikely to see in a film these days, especially as the opening.
The next set of scenes put me in mind of Howard Hawks' classic films from the '30s and '40s, especially those with Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn. No, The Peacemaker isn't a screwball comedy. However, George Clooney has the same kind of comic/dramatic mix of charm and infuriating arrogance that made Cary Grant such a fine actor, and Nicole Kidman plays the intelligent women trapped in a man's world with equal aplomb. The sparks fly between these two from the moment they're introduced, and the plot gives them plenty of opportunities to show their stuff.
Speaking of the plot, it's a tight little example of post-Soviet era international espionage. Amongst the bad guys we see a nice mix of idealism and money grubbing greed. The political message -- that getting involved in the affairs of other countries can have disastrous consequences for individuals -- is an important one, but never handled too heavily. All the pieces fall together in a neat little package that includes a slam-bang finale.
If there's one thing bad I can say about The Peacemaker it's that the film is sometimes too well done for its own good. It feels a little too generic sometimes because everything is neatly and cleanly executed. The film is too well structured to take any risks, and because it doesn't take any risks it doesn't really push any boundaries or limits on the genre.
This Blu-ray is a hi-def port of the old DVD from everything I can tell. The upgrade in the audiovisual department is only so-so. During the film's brighter, more vibrant scenes, the AVC encoded transfer looks great, with lots of sharp details and color saturation. However, the darker scenes suffer from blocky blacks and occasional noise. It's still very watchable, just not reference quality. The DTS-HD soundtrack is appropriately clear, with big booms for the explosions and nicely rendered dialogue. However, I found myself reaching for the volume knob pretty frequently as the balance between dialogue and effects wasn't the greatest.
The few extras pretty much define short and sweet. First up is a five-and-a-half-minute collection of "stunt footage" that mixes on-set cameras with the film's finished scenes to show how the stunts contributed to the film's final look. Then, we get three minutes of gag reel that sticks with Clooney and Kidman, and the two are remarkably charming when they flub lines. Finally, we get the film's theatrical trailer.
The Peacemaker is a solid entry in the '90s canon of action flicks. It doesn't quite rise to the top because of its by-the-numbers approach, but any fan of Clooney or Kidman will likely enjoy the film's twists and turns. Those who love the film will probably see little reason to upgrade: the video does look better than DVD can offer, but not so much to make this a must-own. For other action fans, this disc is worth at least a rental.
The Peacemaker throws together a winning pair in Clooney and Kidman. For that, it's not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 124 Minutes
Release Year: 1997
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Gag Reel