"Well-intentioned but you have seen it all before."
As gorgeous to look at as it is dramatically inert, the new drama “The Beautiful Country” takes what could have been potentially powerful subject matter–the treatment of Vietnamese children fathered by American soldiers who were abandoned by their parents and shunned by their neighbors–and turns it into a dreary sludge through familiar material.After being expelled from his village at the age of 17, Binh (Damien Nguyen) goes to Saigon to reunite with his mother and get information about his father. After inadvertently causing the death of his mother’s employer, Binh sets off on a journey that takes him from a Malaysian prison camp to a horrifying journey aboard a ship crammed with refugees (and, even more frighteningly, captained by an ultra-sleazy Tim Roth) to the streets of New York, where he is treated as little more than a slave, to the inexplicably more hospitable streets of Houston, where he finally reunites with his long-lost father (effectively played by Nick Nolte).
While it sounds like it could be moving, director Hans Petter Moland never quite manages to generate any real interest in the material. Nguyen is so remote that he is essentially a cipher on-screen while the other characters seem to refugees from other films themselves–there are cute kids, sadistic guards and even a hooker with a heart of gold (“Playboy” cover girl Bai Ling) who gives her all to help Binh out on his journey (only to receive his scorn when she tries to do things for her own personal gain as well).
There are a few interesting aspects on display in “The Beautiful Country”. Although he is stuck with a fairly unplayable part (not only is he meant to represent all the Americans who suddenly appeared and brought life and/or death to Vietnam before disappearing just as suddenly, he is also supposed to be blind as well–a decision that may be somewhat symbolic), Nolte brings a gravity and poignancy to his closing scenes The cinematography by Stuart Dryburgh is beautiful and the fact that Terrence Malick is one of the producers may inspire some interest in film students who can’t bear waiting until “The New World” hits in November.However, unless you are a slavish devotee of either of them, there is nothing on display in “The Beautiful Country” that you haven’t seen done before and done better.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Tribeca Film Festival For more in the 2005 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Seattle Film Festival For more in the 2005 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.