Live by Night
The key question behind Live by Night isn’t so much “Why did they bother?” as “What went wrong?”
At first I wasn't going to mention the red digital readout. I've talked about them so often in the past I was afraid of boring you. Then I thought, hey, I was amazed when I saw it in this movie--so why shouldn't I share? I refer to the wheezy movie device requiring the hero to defuse a bomb or other dangerous device before it explodes. Such devices invariably have red digital readouts, so we can see the seconds ticking away with deadly precision.
RDRs have become a jarring cliche, but they survive because they're a quick, cheap device for manufacturing phony suspense. Already this year we've seen RDRs on a doomed ocean liner ("Speed 2") and onboard "Air Force One," and now, in "The Peacemaker,'' the whole climax comes down to whether Nicole Kidman and George Clooney can disarm a ticking nuclear bomb before it vaporizes Manhattan.
This is the first big release from the new DreamWorks studio, and it looks great. The technical credits are impeccable, and Clooney and Kidman negotiate assorted dangers skillfully. But it's mostly spare parts from other thrillers. There's one flash of originality (the villain is protesting that the world has ignored the killing in Bosnia). Much of the rest is retreaded, including the standard idea of teaming a macho military hero (Clooney) with a bright female government official (Kidman). "Give me a man who knows how to take orders from a woman,'' she barks, just before the scene where he marches into her briefing, interrupts her, corrects her, and then spends the rest of the film giving her orders.
Kidman plays the "acting head of the White House Nuclear Smuggling Group,'' and Clooney is an intelligence officer with Army Special Forces. The terrorist (Marcel Iures) is haunted by images of his loved ones slaughtered in the former Yugoslavia.