A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
I am pleased we have women in our fighting forces, since they are so much better at war than men. "Harrison's Flowers" is about an American wife who journeys to the Balkans to rescue her husband from a hotbed of genocide. Only two months ago, in "Charlotte Gray," a British woman parachuted behind German lines in France to rescue her boyfriend. I can just about believe that Charlotte Gray could deceive the Germans with her perfect French, but that Sarah Lloyd could emerge alive from the Balkans hell is unlikely; much of the movie's fascination is with the way Croatians allow this woman and her new friends to wander through the killing zones intact.
I doubt, for that matter, that a Los Angeles fireman could fly to Colombia in "Collateral Damage" and singlehandedly outfight guerrillas and drug empires, but that is an Arnold Schwarzenegger picture and not supposed to be realistic. "Harrison's Flowers" is not based on fact but plays like one of those movies that is, and the scenes of carnage are so well-staged and convincing that they make the movie's story even harder to believe. Strong performances also work to win us over, wear us down and persuade us to accept this movie as plausible. Who we gonna believe, the screenplay or our lyin' eyes? Andie MacDowell stars, in another reminder of her range and skill, in what is essentially an action role. She plays Sarah Lloyd, mother of two, wife of the celebrated war photographer Harrison Lloyd (David Strathairn). In an obligatory scene that triggers an uh-oh reflex among experienced filmgoers, he tells his boss he wants to retire and is persuaded to take One Last Job. Off he flies to the early days of the war in the Balkans, to investigate "ethnic cleansing," which was I think a term not then quite yet in use. He is reported dead, but Sarah knows he's still alive: "Something would have happened inside if he were dead." She watches TV obsessively, hoping for a glimpse of Harrison among POWs, and takes up chain-smoking, which is the movie symbol for grief-stricken obsession, and is dropped as soon as it's no longer needed. Because of a hang-up call in the middle of the night and other signs, she decides to fly to the Balkans to find Harrison. A more reasonable spouse might reason that since (a) her husband is reliably reported dead, and (b) she has no combat zone skills, that (c) she should stay home with her kids so they will not become orphans, but no.
The war scenes have undeniable power. Violence springs from nowhere during routine moments and kills supporting characters without warning. Ordinary streets are transformed instantly into warscapes. Sarah joins up with three of Harrison's photographer friends who accompany her quest: pill-popping, wise-cracking Morris (Adrien Brody), shambling, likable Stevenson (Brendan Gleeson), and bitter, existentialist Yeager Pollack (Elias Koteas) (if any of them are killed, can you predict from the character descriptions which order it will happen in?). They commandeer cars and Jeeps and essentially make a tour of the war zone, while bullets whiz past their ears and unspeakable horrors take place on every side.
They are protected, allegedly, by white flags and large letters proclaiming "TV" on the sides of their cars. But there is a scene where troops are methodically carrying out an ethnic massacre, and they wander in full view at the other end of the street: Does their status as journalists render them invisible? At one point, Sarah wears fatigues, which (I learn from an article by a war correspondent) is the last thing she should do. Civilian clothes mark her as a non-combatant; camouflage marks her as a target even before her gender is determined.
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...
A look at John Sayles' brilliant "The Brother From Another Planet."