Length: 126 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1, English & French Dolby Surround, Commentary
English Subtitles, Closed Captioned
Special Features: "Making of" documentary, featurettes, commentary with director, producer
No SRP. Expected selling price: under $20US
Beyond Borders is a love story set in a world of famine and death. I suppose, love can and does happen in desperate times and places - but some who have seen this film have considered it exploitation. I can see their point. In fact, I was of a similar opinion until research confirmed that the sickly children featured in the film were actually quite healthy. The dying two-year-old who is a focus of the first act was, in fact, an active, precocious child who was digitally altered to make him appear a victim of famine. That made me feel better. A little. The film toes the line, but knowing that some of those involved in the film are active aid workers in famine relief helps you to realize that the film’s heart is in the right place.
The film revolves around an American socialite, Sarah Jordan (Angelina Jolie), who has married into a well-to-do British family and is living in London. At a benefit dinner, Sarah witnesses Dr. Nick Callahan “crash the party” with a sickly Ethiopian child in tow. Nick expresses his disgust that these socialites party at an expensive dinner, but so little of their money goes to help the children in his charge.
An employee of the UN, Sarah decides to get more involved, and visit the camp where Nick works in Ethiopia. She is shocked by what she finds, and dismayed at what aid workers need to do to keep the camps open.
Nick moves around from country to country, as needed... from Ethiopia to Cambodia, and to other countries with ineffective governments and active resistance fighters. Sarah, her marriage failing, bounces back and forth between London and the latest locations of Nick’s aid camps, falling more in love with him each time.
None of the characters, except perhaps Sarah, have any real depth to them. There is little character development throughout the film - and ultimately, that is the film’s downfall. How can you feel strongly about the characters and their problems when you never get a chance to know them? I think the film may have worked better if it dealt more with the political aspects of getting aid to the camps - something which is seen but not in depth - and left the romance out of it. It’s not that I dislike romance in the movies, it’s just that in this case, it stood in such stark contrast with the pervasive subject of the film, that it seemed to pale in comparison.
There are some truly compelling scenes in the film - all of which are when the aid workers are dealing with government officials or rebel leaders. The romance is superfluous... sort of like if a movie about Pearl Harbor had a romance story written into it.... oh, wait... never mind.
Beyond Borders isn’t a bad movie... but with such an important story to tell (and I’m not talking about the romance, here), it could have been a modern epic. As it stands, it’s sort of the Pearl Harbor of the famine relief world.
The picture is anamorphic, with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Stylistic choices dictated changing color palettes - a neutral palette for the London scenes, an overly warm palette for the desert scenes, and a strark, cold palette in the later scenes in Chechnya. Saturation is rich in the neutral and warm scenes, and somewhat subdued in the colder palettes. The picture is sharp enough, with no obvious signs of edge enhancement or compression artifacts. There are a couple of quick camera shots late in the film where black levels are off by quite a bit, but usually the contrast is good and blacks are deep, offering good shadow detail. It appears that the black level errors were in the original photography and not a result of the transfer.
Audio tracks include an English Dolby Digital 5.1 track, English Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround, and a commentary track. The 5.1 track offers up some good atmospheric effects when called for, and it sounds good. Being largely a dialog-driven drama, this won’t be reference material for your sound system, however. Dialog sounds full and is always clear. Sound effects, and James Horner’s score makes ample use of the front and rear stages. LFE is used to good effect in the rare scenes that call for it. The audio is solid, if not remarkable.
Commentary by director Martin Campbell and producer Lloyd Phillips. The moments I sampled of this commentary seemed rather dry and stolid. Other than details on the digital effects used to make actors look as if they are thin and frail, it seems unremarkable.
Two-part Documentary: Behind the Lines: The making of Beyond Borders. Totaling under 40 minutes, this documentary starts off showing how an industrial suburb of Montreal was transformed into war-torn Chechnya. It includes on-set interviews with Jolie and some of the production staff. Other locations in Canada are also shown as doubles for Chechen winter. Stage two of the production took place in Namibia, which doubled for 1985 Ethiopia. More on-location behind-the-scenes footage is seen, as well as interviews with stunt coordinators.
Part two begins with set design, at the “Ethiopian” camp built from scratch in Namibia. It is an enormous set that covers hundreds of acres.
There’s nothing remarkable about the documentary, but may be of interest to those interested in location footage and set design.
The Writing of Beyond Borders: A Conversation with Screenwriter Caspian Tredwell-Owen (7:32)
An interview with Caspian Tredwell-Owen, who talks about his research and writing of Beyond Borders.
Angelina: Goodwill Ambassador (3:40)
Jolie talks about her work in humanitarian aid. Cameras tag along for one of her camp visits.
The Perfect Score
Beyond Borders is one of those films that people seem to either love or hate. If you love it, this Paramount release does it justice. If you haven’t seen it, you might want to go the rental route - or wait until it shows up in your neighborhood bargain bin.