Women Directors and the Fans Who Love Them
Once again I am pleasantly surprised by a Hollywood film. The Peacemaker (starring George Clooney and Nicole Kidman) — like The Game last week — turned out to be much more thoughtful and much less action-packed than I was expecting. How much more of this can I take?
The Peacemaker‘s opening sequence alone was worth the price of admission. A rogue Russian general is bent on stealing a bunch of nuclear warheads — fair enough. But he wants to snatch them off a transport train, using another train. A train chase? I shook my head in the darkened theater. It’ll never work. But it does, and director Mimi Leder takes full advantage of her visual medium — the theft is documented with a bare minimum of dialog (and some of that is in untranslated Russian).
Whether it’s a woman’s point of view or simply that of a newcomer to action movies, Leder has given us one of the most visually original action movies in a long time. There’s a dizzying car chase through the narrow streets of Vienna and a suspenseful manhunt through the crowded sidewalks of Manhattan. There are some unusual camera angles that give us new perspectives on all the movement.
But Leder doesn’t stop there. She lets Kidman’s character — a nuclear physicist and White House liaison — do a tough job without having to deal with a lot of chauvinist crap from men. (And she gets to wear sensible shoes!) She lets Clooney’s soldier be both darker and softer than he might otherwise have been — he is genuinely upset by the death of a friend (as opposed to the typical action hero, whose mourning usually consists of a momentary grimace), and he’s complex enough to make you wonder if he won’t shoot a vulnerable terrorist in cold blood when he has the chance. And the big bad guy isn’t a one-sided monster, either — Leder lets him show his human side through a love of music and affection for a brother.
I suspect that much of this sensibility wasn’t in the script. As with the opening train chase, character comes through visually in The Peacemaker. A quiet shot lingers on the grief-stricken Clooney when the camera could have pulled away. Military types wait patiently for instructions from Kidman when they could have been scowling. A terrorist finds himself losing his nerve at the sight of the innocent people he is about to kill.
Could a man have made this movie? Probably. But a woman did, and made it stand out from the crowd. I hope she makes lots more before she’s done.