In 1993, three of the most influential executives in the entertainment industry decided to pool their talent, resources, and connections into the power company called Dreamworks. It was Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and music mogul David Geffen who formed the studio, at first to contribute to other films in production by other studios. It’s no surprise that the studio’s first impact was in contributing special effects. In 1997, the studio decided to begin creating their own brand of films. The first of those efforts was the Nicole Kidman/George Clooney post-Cold-War thriller, The Peacemaker.
In many ways the film itself became a victim of the milestone that it represented. It wouldn’t be long before Dreamworks would start to live up to those expectations and in a huge way. But in 1997, films like Shrek, Gladiator, and Saving Private Ryan were still a couple of years away. So all of the massive expectations that came with such a powerhouse venture fell on The Peacemaker. And those expectations fell hard. The movie cost over $50 million to make and pulled in only $41 million in its domestic box office run. A mere speed bump in the upwardly mobile future of Dreamworks; a disaster for a film that deserved more attention for its own merits.
It’s the end of the Cold War, and Russian military personnel are doing the work of dismantling much of the former Soviet Union’s stockpile of nuclear warheads. It’s a changing world, and not everyone in the armed forces is happy about it. Ten of these warheads are loaded onto a transport train in the rural Ural mountains. They are on their way to be accounted for and destroyed. But, for some, that’s a pretty awful waste of some perfectly good nuclear bombs. The train is intercepted by a crack squad of rogue Russian officers. Nine of the warheads are stolen. The train is sent on a collision course along with detonation of the remaining warhead. It is hoped the wreck and nuclear explosion will cover up the theft.
What they didn’t count on was Dr. Julia Kelley (Kidman). She is a nuclear scientist who once developed these kinds of weapons. Now she works for the National Security Agency to try to stop others from using them. When a power vacuum in the department occurs during the Ural incident, she is placed temporarily in charge and assigned to investigate what is at first believed to be a tragic accident. She studies the data and concludes quickly that the bomb could not have been detonated by the crash. It was intentional. More importantly, the yield was far too low for all ten bombs to have been ignited. Enter Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Devoe (Clooney). He’s had some experience in the region and knows all of the players. It’s his input that reveals the purpose behind the deception. A rogue Russian general has stolen the nukes. Together they travel the globe and put themselves in harm’s way to find out where the bombs are.
What makes this more interesting than a typical Cold War story with a post-Cold-War twist is that the whole thing merely starts with the Russians. This is not a Russian plot to bring back the good old days and attack the US. The story soon becomes one of revenge that has more to do with the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia than The Soviet Union. It’s not the nine missing bombs that become the concern. It’s the one that gets away. Kidman delivers the film’s famous trailer line about not worrying about the guy who steals ten nuclear bombs, but the guy who only wants one.
The movie delivers in almost every aspect. The opening raid of the train includes one of the most effective visuals you’ll ever see. As the commandos raid the train, you see their laser sights spread throughout the train car. With only the sound of the train’s brakes and wheels, the scene suddenly turns to the result of the massacre. Without seeing one shot fired, you are far more moved by the bloodbath. That screen filled with red laser sights is an eerie image long after the massacre itself. The film is loaded with such moments. First-time director Mimi Leder shows real skill with the help of a top-notch cinematography crew. These moments of subtlety are quite compelling. Of course, this is an action movie, after all, and you will get more than your fair share of chases and gunfights. It’s nice to see that Leder was able to mix it up a bit. The film manages to keep up a somewhat frantic pace, throwing in enough sharp turns to keep you guessing. And long after the guessing is done, there’s enough suspense left in the tank to deliver an explosive finale.
There are some top-notch cast members here. Dreamworks didn’t take any chances there at all. Nicole Kidman has always been the type of actress that can look and sound good without all of that glamour crap going on all the time. She looks real enough to be believable. She’s strong, yet not the leave-everyone-in-the-dust powerhouse, either. George Clooney does his best not to mug for the camera, a flaw he all too often succumbs to. Here he stays gritty and only has a few of those “ain’t I pretty” moments. Throw in a solid supporting cast, and you have a film that is much better than its reputation.
The Peacemaker is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC/MPEG-4 codec at an average of about 28 mbps. The movie looks pretty good even if this isn’t one of those glossy sharp high-definition images we expect from more recent films. Colors are never stand-out, but they do play out rather naturally. The detail is higher than we get on DVD, but don’t expect this picture to really pop a lot. It moves fast, so there isn’t much time to admire the detailed set pieces anyway. The best thing I can say here is that the image just disappears into the movie itself. This is one of those times I forgot to check on the occasional bit rate or think about things like black levels and shadow definition.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 does a better-than-average job of delivering on the goods here. One of the first things you’re going to appreciate is the fine bass response you’re getting out of your sub. It’s not present all the time, but when the picture is trying to create that punch, the sub kicks in powerful and booming just at the right time. The dialog is fine, but I did find the voices were quite low once in a while. Kidman is rather soft-spoken here even when she’s fired up. The Hans Zimmer score is one of the brilliant highlights of this film. It is one of his better efforts, and that’s saying something, indeed. It is dynamic without ever getting in the way. It really plays into this sweeping global story by setting up the mood and atmosphere perfectly. Like a reliable old car, this score takes you exactly where you need to be…every time.
Stunt Footage: (5:36) SD Some behind-the-scenes footage of the action stunts is intercut into clips from the movie itself.
Scenes From The Cuttingroom Floor: (3:01) These are not the expected deleted scenes. What you get here are bloopers alternating with serious interview clips, mostly from director Mimi Leder.
There are moments here when you really feel like you’re watching a Jack Ryan film. There is plenty of thought behind the action. You get that same kind of geopolitical backdrop that requires as much thinking as shooting. The movie cleverly blends both the post Cold War elements with an entirely different political scenario and then brings it right home to the streets of New York. Sometimes I dread writing these reviews. Then there are times like this where “sometimes my enthusiasm gets the better of me”.