In My Country

on March 11, 2005 by David Lawrence
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Director John Boorman's career has always been a study in extremes--extreme successes like "Hope and Glory" contrasted with extreme failures like "Exorcist II: The Heretic." His latest, the South Africa-centered "In My Country," a sludgy quagmire of sanctimonious moralizing and overbearing melodrama, belongs to the latter.

Adapted by Ann Peacock without the least bit of subtlety from the Antjie Krog book, the picture is framed around the relationship that develops between two journalists--Washington Post writer Langston Whitfield (Samuel L. Jackson) and Afrikaans poet and radio reporter Anna Malan (Juliet Binoche)--who meet while covering the post-Apartheid hearings by the Truth and Reconciliation Committee. The controversial tribunal, in which numerous political criminals were granted amnesty for simply "confessing" their crimes, gets the two off to a predictably contentious start. Whitfield thinks the country is betraying justice. Malan tries to persuade him that it's about healing and not revenge. Naturally, the more they argue and debate, the closer they come to falling into each other's arms. But Hepburn and Tracy they are not.

As distracting as this obvious and well-worn contrivance ends up being, it's not nearly as ham-fisted as the respective subplots in which Jackson must confront and interview a notoriously cruel policeman named De Jager (Boorman favorite Brendan Gleeson) while Binoche struggles to reconcile herself to the possibility that her beloved brother also participated in such crimes.

It's easy to imagine someone like Douglas Sirk working his magic on this type of material and somehow finding a middle road that's not quite so maudlin. But even with a better script, this still wouldn't be Boorman's bag. The thorny matters of moral ambiguity that have typically defined his best work are nonexistent here. "In My Country" means to have its heart in the right place, but it's already too full of itself to know where that place is. Starring Samuel L Jackson, Juliette Binoche, Brendan Gleeson and Menzi "Ngubs" Ngubane. Directed by John Boorman. Written by Ann Peacock. Produced by John Boorman, Robert Chartoff, Kieran Corrigan, Lynn Hendee and Mike Medavoy. An SPC release. Drama. Rated R for language, including descriptions of atrocities, and for a scene of violence. Running time: 100 min

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