I'm just going to come right out and say it (in case you didn't immediately look at the star score and say, "What?!"). I flat out enjoy watching 'The Peacemaker.' Yes, the entire movie is riddled with action/thriller clichés, specifically but not limited to, a bomb counting down to zero in tiny red digital numbers while the heroic protagonists try to defuse it. There's also power-hungry Russians, a car chase through small European streets, and more than enough henchmen to go around.
So, with all these predictable pieces of the action film pie, why do I still like the movie? Because director Mimi Leder (with enormous help from Hans Zimmer's rousing score) creates an atmosphere of suspense that carries throughout 'The Peacemaker's two-hour runtime. Nowadays, action flicks are more often than not packed into a nice and neat 90 minutes. Even though 'The Peacemaker' has its share of slow scenes, they're always building to something bigger and more sinister. Never once, during the entire movie, do I feel bored enough to check the clock to see when the movie is going to end. The taut editing and direction make this film a breeze to get through, all the while creating a welcome helping of suspense.
A team of Russian (remember the good old days when action movies were always populated by angry Russians hell-bent on returning to the Cold War, instead of just another suicide bomber?) operatives storm a train in the dead of night carrying 10 nuclear warheads. They set one off.
When I first saw 'The Peacemaker' way back in 1997, I remember thinking that was an amazing moment. It catches you totally off guard, even if you know it's coming, because most movies (including the last half of this one) are completely spent on finding and disarming the device. Here a nuke is detonated within the first 20 minutes. It instantly sucks you into the movie.
Dr. Julia Kelly (Nicole Kidman) is an expert in all things nuclear, and head of a nuclear smuggling committee tasked with locating and destroying nuclear arms. Lt. Col. Thomas Devoe (George Clooney) is the standard fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants army guy who shoots first and doesn't even ask questions later. Coming off the dreadful 'Batman & Robin,' Clooney shows he has the tenacity and wherewithal to be a leading man in action movies. Clooney has only gotten better with age, but this is one of the first movies of his where we found ourselves thinking, "Hey, this Clooney guy is kind of a big deal now. He's not just a TV guy anymore."
The movie has all the requisite shootouts and car chases required for an action movie, but with a style that keeps it interesting. The car chase is fun, inventive, and most important of all, coherent, without all of the nonsensical Shaky-Cam antics that pervade today's action flicks.
While 'The Peacemaker' doesn't bring much new to the table in the way of reinventing the action/thriller, it does manage to keep your attention locked on the screen for two hours, which is something to be applauded. Hey, you could do worse right? You could be watching 'Batman & Robin.' At least in 'The Peacemaker' Clooney doesn't wear any Army gear with built-in nipples.
Trying to hop on the Clooney bandwagon with the release of 'The American,' Paramount has (no surprise) rushed 'The Peacemaker' to Blu-ray to make a quick buck. The 1080p, AVC-encoded picture appears heavily scrubbed, leaving faces with a waxy texture that never feels real or genuine. Artificial sharpening of the picture is also noticeable, leaving an unrealistic and very non-cinematic look in its wake.
At times some of the shots look stunning, but they are mostly secondary shots like helicopters flying over mountains or the slums in Bosnia. The primary footage of Kidman and Clooney is the problem here. Blacks are anemic at best. Shadows are fla, and weak, never providing great depth or definition. Instead, faces and body parts are swallowed up in the flat blackness, rather than becoming more dimensional.
Source noise is a constant annoyance throughout the movie. There's even a few instances of micro-blocking in the background featuring skies and trees. Fine detail is almost non-existent. With the pores scrubbed from the actors' faces, there's nothing there except a waxy surface to look at.
If there is one good thing to say about this transfer it's that the beginning scene where the Russian covert operatives appear out of the blackness with their glowing red night vision goggles looks pretty cool and creepy. The red, contrasted with the black looks decent, creating a very ominous, exciting feeling.
It's not a surprise that 'The Peacemaker,' which has been released to ride on the coattails of 'The American,' has problems in the video department. It's a haphazard effort at best.
On the other hand, the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio presentation fares a great deal better than the video. This is an engaging, enthralling soundtrack full of Hans Zimmer's patented booming score (that sounds a lot like 'Pirates of the Caribbean'). The score is probably the most surprising aspect of the entire sound design, because a generic thriller like this usually doesn't sport such flamboyant music. It booms from each speaker, mainly centered up front, but often bleeds into the rear channels.
Sound effects are given a perfect sound stage in which to perform. Pans work smoothly. Take, for instance, when the camera is placed between the two trains at the beginning. The trains come towards the screen, one on each side, and the sound fills the room as it travels to the rear speakers while the train speeds past us. Explosions are alive with LFE, as is much of the soundtrack. The thrilling car chase brings the mix alive with sounds of revving engines and cracking glass happening all around the room. Dialogue is clear, except one scene where Clooney is mourning the loss of his friend. He cries and talks into his hands and it's almost impossible to hear what he says.
I had much more fun with this audio presentation than I thought I would. Paramount couldn't get the video portion right, but they scored with the audio.
Not surprising that we get pretty much snubbed on the extras with a release like this.
I don't care what anyone says, as a run-of-the-mill action/thriller, 'The Peacemaker' is exciting. Sure, it's filled to the brim with action movie clichés, but it handles them with a sort of bravado that only George Clooney can bring to the screen. Too bad Paramount's video presentation is such a letdown. On the bright side, the audio is an immersive experience. And there's nothing here in terms of worthwhile special features. As much as I like the movie itself, this one will just have to be a rental.