The Peacemaker

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The Peacemaker (1997) opens with the theft of ten nuclear warheads from a moving train by a rogue Russian general. To disguise the theft, the train is later derailed and a nuclear bomb is detonated. However, the “bad guys” weren’t counting on Dr. Julia Kelly (Nicole Kidman) and Lt. Col. Thomas Devoe (George Clooney), who saw right through their ruse and are in hot pursuit. But is this the act of a disgraced Russian military leader looking to make some fast cash or are Yugoslav terrorists out for reciprocity involved?

Director Mimi Leder proved herself capable of mustering the kind of adrenaline fueled spectacle that so often is thought to be the providence of men when she made The Peacemaker. Leder’s film may not be the best action film of the nineties, but it stands alongside the films of Martin Campbell, Phillip Noyce and Andrew Davis as a competently made exercise in white knuckle action. Leder pulls no punches with The Peacemaker, matching the films of her male contemporaries blow for blow. With her follow up film Deep Impact (1998), Leder even out did Michael Bay in terms of explosive excess.

The Peacemaker may be a film exemplifies progressive feminism behind the scenes, but in front of the camera Michael Schiffer’s script is awkward in its handling of the Nicole Kidman character. Leder’s lens clearly adores Kidman and views her character to be at least as essential to the film as Clooney’s but the reverse is true for Schiffer. The Peacemaker is written to shoehorn in a degree of sexual chemistry between Kidman and Clooney that Leder ignores in favor of platonic mutual respect. The result of these opposing perspectives makes the personal relationship of the characters feel muddied and at times confusing.

Leder’s denial of the genre norms (the romance between brain and brawn, tough guy and sexy intellectual) is likely why The Peacemaker has become a relatively obscure film and failed at the box office when it was first released. Setting aside Leder’s subtly subversive impulse, The Peacemaker is a rather cookie-cutter affair. The film begins as a second coming of the Soviet Union thriller that transitions into an anti-terrorist plot with ties to the moment’s headline news. The Peacemaker is, like so many action films, about the virtues and nobility of the American Imperialist War Machine triumphing over political powers and countries whose names most Americans cannot pronounce correctly.