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Review: Jolie terrific in brilliant 'Borders'

Film a great love story, and more

By Paul Clinton
CNN

Beyond Borders
Angelina Jolie in "Beyond Borders."

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(CNN) -- "Beyond Borders" is a powerful, deeply moving film that takes you on a stirring journey straight to your heart.

The film works on two levels -- as an emotional love story, and as a thoughtful work that shines light on the dramatic, and often appalling, situations that have faced relief workers and millions of displaced people around the world. Angelina Jolie and Clive Owen heat up the screen with major sexual chemistry and give terrific performances.

The story begins in 1984. Jolie plays Sarah Jordan, a pampered, naive American woman married to a wealthy Englishman. She lives a life of ease and privilege, but her sheltered calm is shattered when a renegade doctor, Nick Callahan (Owen), crashes a fancy charity dinner in London, dragging along a starving young boy from his refugee camp in North Africa.

In an extremely powerful scene, the doctor lectures the startled crowd on what really needs to be done in terms of housing and feeding millions of refugees. His passionate plea makes the point that their feeble efforts hardly scratch the surface.

Sarah experiences what can only be called an epiphany. Soon she's heading off -- at her own expense -- to Ethiopia with medicine and food.

At first, Nick dismisses Sarah as a misguided Girl Scout, but her true desire to help -- and sincere efforts to make a difference -- finally force him to accept her. Slowly, the two form a deep bond.

At the front

Beyond Borders
Clive Owen plays an idealistic doctor in "Beyond Borders."

All too soon, Sarah has to return to the real world, but she is changed forever by her experiences in the refugee camp. She now has a deep commitment to humanitarian relief efforts, and begins a career in London working for the United Nations. As her marriage freezes into a state of indifference, she maintains contact with Nick through intimate letters.

When Nick seeks help from the U.N. for wartorn Cambodia, she not only sends relief, she once again joins him on the front lines -- risking her life for the man she now knows she loves.

Alongside him, Sarah battles with the Khmer Rouge, who are destroying Cambodia and blocking relief efforts. The two finally declare their love for each other, but amid the danger and disease, admit that being together is impossible.

She returns to her son and husband in England. Soon she has a daughter, and reluctantly buries her feelings for Nick.

Years later -- it is now 1995 -- she learns that Nick is in danger in Chechnya, where he is now heading relief efforts. She rushes to the area, only to learn that Nick has been kidnapped and is being held for ransom. She bribes her way to his side. Yes, love conquers all, but the conclusion is thrilling nonetheless.

Raising real issues

This film is an epic love story, but it is also much, much more. "Beyond Borders" offers a stunning portrait of the desperation experienced by people on both sides of the relief equation -- those in need, and those trying to help them. It's a movie about real issues, and it doesn't shirk from presenting them honestly.

In some ways, "Beyond Borders" is three different films, set in three different locations, but with the same underlying themes -- love is universal, humans are vulnerable creatures, and people need other people to survive.

The famines and wars in Ethiopia, Cambodia and Chechnya made headlines for years, but this film takes you into the hearts and souls of the real people -- the real hunger, the real pain, the real danger behind the news stories. "Beyond Borders" humanizes the refugees and the relief workers in a way that hasn't been done before.

Jolie is brilliant. She gives another Oscar-worthy performance as Sarah, a character who slowly changes from an innocent young woman into a strong, centered adult with a great sense of purpose. Owen is also extremely good in the role of Nick. His barely restrained anger and frustration at the system -- and his growing love for Sarah -- is beautifully portrayed.

Directed by Martin Campbell (1998's "The Mask of Zorro") and written by Caspian Tredwell-Owen, "Beyond Borders" left me breathless and deeply moved. Sure, in one way it's just a very good love story -- but it's also an amazing journey into some of the most complex issues of our times.

"Beyond Borders" opens nationwide on Friday, October 24, and is rated R.


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