I’m giving this film probably more praise than most because in its heart is such a good message and the performances are marvelous. It’s so well cast. Some scenes, though not many, are done staggeringly well. Theron knocks it out of the park as an international aid organization director, Dr. Wren Petersen. She hits a home run in this role! She’s a scene stealer more than once when she shows how vulnerable she is yet how powerful she can be when pushed. It’s downplayed but Bardem is sexy as Dr. Miguel Leon, a relief-aid doctor who has equal heart and hormones to give. When Wren sees this dark haired, male version of everything she has always wanted to be, she has to know him.
Sean Penn, two-time Academy Award® winner and the director of the film, loves a cause and this certainly fits the agenda, however, some of its significance may have been lost due to confusing the narrative of humanitarians and their work with a love story that seems out of place. Don’t fret. By the end of the movie, it does seem to come together but one shouldn’t have to put so much work into something to keep track of what the theme is.
It’s beautifully shot and is compelling; this story of international aid relief, but it seems to fall apart structurally. With this director, I can’t figure out why. Perhaps because you can’t fit a love affair into the middle of a ferocious battle of a Liberian Civil War. Are you losing your vision? Yes, I believe it’s possible to fall in love in any circumstance but maybe when we want to make a certain statement, stay the course rather than wander off into La-La Land.
When it’s on topic, this movie is brutal and hellish. Penn doesn’t pull any punches when he aims for the target. War is savage and in this very graphic film, he wants you to see it and maybe, for once, realize this is what people are living with every single day of their lives. It’s quite shocking to see an infant killed in front of its mother for no reason, villagers running for their lives, with bullets ripping through bodies of the people they are trying to outrun and babies die because they dare be born. It’s also horrific to see young soldiers being brainwashed and turned into monsters who can do despicable things without a thought.
No training prepares doctors for what they’ll see in Africa but they try to only see that they are needed and Penn wants you to see that they are always needed. Compassion is needed. People are starving. People are dying. People should be able to just be… like we can. Well, same goes for these two lovers. With their work keeping them apart, they want a chance to just keep this incredibly difficult relationship alive while staying alive themselves.
So, it may be almost impossible for some to keep up with the back and forth between past and present with these characters. The, ‘are they or aren’t they?’ gets a bit old when you aren’t 100% sure of the timeline you’re in but I think it’s worth a watch. Is it a theater watch? No. Wait for VOD. It’s worth it to see if this couple is a casualty of war.