The Best Movie You Never Saw: The Peacemaker

Welcome to The Best Movie You NEVER Saw, a column dedicated to examining films that have flown under the radar or gained traction throughout the years, earning them a place as a cult classic or underrated gem that was either before it’s time and/or has aged like a fine wine.

This week we’ll be looking at THE PEACEMAKER!

THE STORY: When nine nuclear warheads are stolen, a White House nuclear expert (Nicole Kidman) and a Special Forces operative (George Clooney) team-up to avert a terrorist attack and recover the arsenal before it’s too late.

THE PLAYERS: Starring: George Clooney & Nicole Kidman. Directed by Mimi Leder. Music by Hans Zimmer.

THE HISTORY: THE PEACEMAKER is arguably most famous for being the first Dreamworks SKG release. A Tom Clancy-style techno thriller, it was an offbeat choice to launch the studio famously founded by Jeffrey Katzenberg, David Geffen and Steven Spielberg, with the follow-ups, MOUSE HUNT and AMISTAD seemingly more in their wheelhouse. Back in the fall of 1997, it got a fair share of press due to being star George Clooney’s first action film. At this point, he was best known for “E.R”, with him having previously starred in FROM DUSK TILL DAWN and the infamous BATMAN & ROBIN, and many saw it as a test of his big-screen mettle. It co-starred Nicole Kidman who, at this point, was still best known for being Mrs. Tom Cruise, although she had recently won much acclaim for Gus Van Sant’s TO DIE FOR. It was also notable for being the rare example of an action flick helmed by a woman, in this case “E.R” director Mimi Leder, although, sadly, in the twenty years since it came out female-directed thrillers are still all-too rare.

“First one in, first one out… It’s not like we had a choice of twenty things and picked this because it’s some statement or something.” – Dreamworks co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg – quoted in "The Men Who Would Be Kings” (p.147) by Nicole LaPorte

Opening to mixed reviews, THE PEACEMAKER underperformed in North America, grossing $41 million which, if you figure in the then-still lucrative TV and video rentals, wasn’t too bad. It did better overseas, eventually topping-out at $110 million worldwide, which, on a $50 million budget, meant it just about broke even. In the years since, it’s mostly been forgotten and is seen as a footnote in both Clooney and Kidman’s careers, but THE PEACEMAKER deserves a second look.

WHY IT'S GREAT: It’s funny how time has a way of improving certain movies. I was about sixteen when THE PEACEMAKER hit theaters and didn’t actually catch-up with it until it hit Blockbuster Video. I remember liking it back then, but also thinking it was a somewhat generic actioner, not quite as good as the ones Jerry Bruckheimer and Joel Silver were still cranking out regularly. Oh, how times changed, with movies of this ilk (unapologetically R-rated, geared to adults actioners) largely extinct. Action movies nowadays are dominated by superheroes, while more grounded attempts largely fly under-the radar, with some exceptions. Even something like JOHN WICK owes more than a little to the superhero movie revolution and legit, almost plausible thrillers like this rarely get made.

Thus, THE PEACEMAKER, when viewed now, stands-up as a mighty solid actioner. It has a slow-build-up, as Clooney doesn’t make his entry into the film until about twenty-five minutes in, but the serious approach works. Director Leder takes her time, showing us the nuclear heist and its fall-out, with Marcel Iureş’s villain surprisingly thought-out, even if he’s a bit of a clone of Ed Harris in THE ROCK, a movie whose style influenced this one in a big way.

While not a non-stop actioner, there are some really good set pieces, such as a nifty (and violent) car chase through Dagestan, and a brilliant helicopter assault on the terrorists. Clooney actually makes for a solid action hero, even if it’s a genre he hasn’t pursued since (with a back injury suffered while making SYRIANA not helping matters). He’s still got some of his E.R-era ticks, such as the smart-alecky way he talks and that annoying thing he did back then where he bobbed his head down when he talked, with his eyes peering up. These bad habits were broken when he started working with Steven Soderbergh (who really whipped him into shape), but even still, he’s a dynamic hero. Likewise, Kidman suits her part as the brainy nuclear expert, and any romantic entanglement between the two is avoided until the very end. THE PEACEMAKER also has an incredible score by Hans Zimmer, one of his best from that era. One thing I noticed years later was how the end of the car chase theme, when Clooney and Kidman leap away from the explosion, predated the similar sounding main theme for Danny Elfman’s PLANET OF THE APES score, although this is probably just a coincidence.

“I think PEACEMAKER is a really well-made movie and has a few people who became movie stars, and it has a fabulous director. But the idea itself wasn’t particularly strong. It wasn’t special.” – Producer Walter Parkes – quoted in "The Men Who Would Be Kings” (p.147) by Nicole LaPorte

It’s worth noting that Leder, who’d never directed a film of this scale before, really aces the action scenes. After this, she went on to direct the highly successful DEEP IMPACT, before stumbling commercially with PAY IT FORWARD, a movie that was bad but not bad enough that she deserved the movie jail purgatory she found herself in. She should have bounced back, but for whatever reason she didn’t, although she’s now a highly sought-after TV director (with her work on “The Leftovers” being especially acclaimed). I’d love to see her tackle another movie like this.

BEST SCENE: The pacing in THE PEACEMAKER is spot on, and I love the way the slow build-up never really clues you into the fact that this is an action flick until the mayhem actually starts. Clooney’s character is totally disarming with his charm at first, but in this scene he drops it like a hot potato to start brutally interrogating a suspected arms dealer, while the brainy Kidman panics – with the security about to close in on them. It’s a nail-biting prelude to the car chase and more evidence that Leder really had the formula for a movie like this down cold.

SEE IT: THE PEACEMAKER is available on DVD (it was one of the first issued), Blu-Ray, and many streaming services.

PARTING SHOT: THE PEACEMAKER isn’t in the same league as THE ROCK, but as far as that movie’s clones go (and there are quite a few – with the awful CHILL FACTOR notably trying to blend it with SPEED) this is probably the best one. It holds up as a nifty action thriller, and an intriguing look at what George Clooney would have been like had he gone the action hero route.

Source: JoBlo.com



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