Thursday, April 7, 2016

Welcome to Sarajevo

2.5/4

Starring: Stephen Dillane, Marisa Tomei, Goran Visnjic, Emira Nusevic, Woody Harrelson, Kerry Fox

Rated R for Brutal Images/War Atrocities and Language

After viewing Angelina Jolie's directorial debut, "In the Land of Blood and Honey," another movie about the Bosnian War, I wrote, "Someday, someone is going to make a brilliant and innovative film about the Bosnian War, if they haven't already."  While "Welcome to Sarajevo" shows flashes of greatness, they are in the midst of a meandering story without much focus or characters we can truly latch onto.

Michael Henderson (Dillane) is a reporter covering the Balkan conflict, along with his colleagues Jane Carson (Fox), Annie McGee (Emily Lloyd) and hotshot American reporter Flynn (Harrelson).  Violence and death are a daily reality here, and they cope with it the best they can.  But the constant danger and death and the "all talk" bureaucracy wear down on Michael, and he makes the mistake of becoming emotionally invested in the fates of those at an orphanage that's directly in the face of danger.  Specifically, a young girl named Emira (Nusevic).  So when an aid worker (Tomei) has a way for the babies to get out, he cons his way into rescuing Emira.  That's just the start of his ordeal, however.

The first 45 minutes are the most problematic.  The narrative lacks focus and just kind of spins its wheels.  Director Michael Winterbottom's intent is obviously to give a slice of life look at war reporters, but the screenplay is too weak and his direction is too distant to support such an endeavor.  There are moments of carnage that are difficult to watch, but they would have had a greater impact with stronger characters and better direction.

Once Marisa Tomei enters the picture, the film finds its groove, at least for a while.  The story becomes better realized and the film gets out of neutral.  However, it descends into a family melodrama that while not necessarily bad, isn't nearly as interesting.

The performances work.  Stephen Dillane, an English character actor who probably deserves more roles than he gets, is an effective anchor.  He's an everyman, but Dillane doesn't get drowned out by the chaos around him.  Marisa Tomei is always welcome on screen, although this isn't the best example of her talents.  Woody Harrelson is on hand for some gallows humor, but his character is superfluous; take him out, and the film wouldn't change at all.  Emira Nusevic manages to give a natural, although not spectacular performance.  She's effective, but due to Winterbottom's style, she doesn't stand out.  At least she's not too cute or precocious.  The best performance is given by then-unknown Goran Visnjic, who plays Risto the driver.  Visnjic demonstrates the talent that got him a lead role on "E.R."

Sometimes compelling and occasionally tough to watch, "Welcome to Sarajevo" is nonetheless too problematic for me to recommend.

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