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December 18, 2008 |

By Ted Boynton | Boozehound Cinephile | December 18, 2008 |

If you discerned a rip in the space-time continuum a week ago last Saturday, it was probably the cosmic confluence of circumstances that brought the ol’ Boozehound’s life-wife and Pajiba-wife together in one place. (If Patricia Clarkson had walked in, a black hole likely would have opened up and swallowed the solar system.) Pajiba’s dear PaddyDog, an Eloquent from the misty dawn of time in the ‘Jibaverse, visited San Francisco on business and treated us to dinner. Copious drinking ensued.

When Paddy told me she would be here, I knew I would have to dust off my good liver for the occasion, and one word sprang immediately to mind: “Bushmills.” (“Threesome” arrived seconds later, but we’re trying to live in reality-land right now. Naturally, dinner was spent with Paddy and Mrs. socalled staring wondrously into each other’s eyes and going ga-ga for each other. The word “soulmate” was trotted out, and not in reference to me. Bitches.) As you shall see, Bushmills figured prominently in our meeting face to face, but not in the way I expected.

Pop Culture Item Consumed: The Peacemaker, a smart terrorism thriller that somehow landed on the list of my top-five-of-all-time favorite action movies. Intriguingly plotted, slickly produced, and viscerally thrilling, The Peacemaker stars George Clooney and Nicole Kidman as a soldier and a physicist tracking a hijacked nuclear warhead on its way to New York City as part of a terrorist plot spawned in the Balkans War. Ah, the innocent yesteryear of 1997, when the Balkans conflict seemed impenetrably complex. Anyways, this one goes out to Dick at Championship Vinyl — The Boozehound Cinephile’s Top Five Action Movies of All Time:

Die Hard
The Peacemaker
The Replacement Killers
The Bourne Identity

Nothing prior to 1980; I checked the lists but didn’t see any superior candidates from the old days, which seems about right to me. The action movie really came into its own in the wake of the special effects revolution of the 1970s and early 1980s. (I’m not counting pre-1980s films like the original The Italian Job, which is a “heist thriller,” not an action movie.)

Beverage Consumed: I can barely type the words without weeping. Knowing my general affinity for whiskey and intense curiosity about the mists of Éire, Paddy brought me a bottle of the 400th Anniversary Edition of Bushmills Irish Whiskey. Bushmills received its distilling license in 1608, though legend has it that the distillery produced Irish whiskey for some four centuries prior to that time. The long and the short of it is that this historical question provides fine fodder for arguing while knocking down shots of Bushmills.

We’ve previously covered Irish whiskey in this space, but a refresher is in order. By my lights, at some point in the distant past, a couple of clover-hoppers caught a leprechaun who taught them how to merge fire and water into the same liquid, along with some whole-grain goodness. The flavor is hard to describe, and I find that whiskeys are best characterized for the uninitiated through bread analogies: Rye whiskey is to bourbon as rye bread is to pumpkin bread; Scotch whiskey ranges from pumpernickel to dark wheat; blended Scotch is more of a regular wheat bread; and Canadian whiskey tastes like a sugar sandwich with sugar glaze on top, dipped in bar syrup. Irish whiskey would be something on the order of sourdough, if the sourdough grabbed you by the crotch and caused you to spontaneously break into a sean-nós.

Irish whiskey may be drunk neat or on the rocks; when drunk without ice, it is often accompanied by a beer chaser. For some, the chaser prevents pesky throat fires — spontaneous combustion has been documented in rare cases — but Irish whiskey and good Celtic or Gaelic beer simply taste wonderful together when drunk in sequence. I find that the warm, delicious burn of neat Irish whiskey sets off the icy, frothy beer taste very nicely. After knocking down the first one as a shot, continue by sipping the next few. If I’m drinking at a bar, Harp is my favorite chaser for Irish whiskey. We rarely keep Harp around the house, however, and Stella or Grolsch makes a fine accompaniment. Heineken will do in a pinch. For a different experience altogether, follow the whiskey with Guinness; the stout brings a base vibe to the proceedings that is pretty fun until you fall down. (You will fall down.)

I perfectly understand the idea of selecting a favorite whiskey, but I continue to be puzzled by people saying they don’t like certain types. When it comes to whiskey, I take the approach my father recommended with respect to women: “I hear these yammerheads say, ‘I like blondes, I prefer black girls, I don’t like Asians or Mexicans, blah blah blah.’ I say, ‘Great, pick out the 5% you like and leave the rest for me. I’ll pick them up off the curb where you left them.’” Thus did Boozehound Sr. presage Sir Mix-a-Lot’s advisory that “So they toss it and leave it. And I pull up quick to retrieve it.”

Summary of Action: The Peacemaker was widely viewed as a flop following its 1997 release, though it did very well in its opening weekend and ultimately grossed well over $100 million on a $50 million production budget. Part of the blame lies with Batman & Robin, an epic “failure” that grossed double its $125 million production cost while still tarnishing George Clooney and everyone else associated with it. Batman’s Rock-Hard Nipples, as local wags might call it — actually Pajiba has gone to an “all wag, all the time” format — was released three months prior to The Peacemaker, and this one-two punch of disappointment caused a drastic alteration in the trajectory of Clooney’s film career. Given lesser artistic ambitions, Clooney would have made a fine heir to Harrison Ford as the “smart” action movie star several tiers above Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Clooney has repeatedly and credibly played a lean instrument of destruction, and had his 1997 offerings been perceived as successes, his career could have played out very differently.

Instead, Clooney spent the next two years recovering from his mainstream action hero experiment, and 1990s cinema was irrevocably improved: Out of Sight, The Thin Red Line, and Three Kings established Clooney as an expressive, thoughtful film actor who also happened to possess the charisma and good looks of a 1940s matinee idol. Oddly, each of these films, while well-received critically, was perceived as a commercial failure, though only The Thin Red Line actually lost money.

While I’m pleased that Clooney chose to take his game up a few notches, I remain mystified by the relative lack of recognition accorded The Peacemaker. Plainly there’s an audience for the film, as it regularly runs on both premium pay channels and basic cable, but in terms of critical analysis it’s the red-headed stepchild of Clooney’s studio work. That’s too bad, because it’s a crackling good action-adventure picture wrapped up in smart political espionage trappings. The cast acquits themselves well, with fine performances all around and a cool villain duality involving a traditional black-hat mercenary who steals and deals nuclear arms as well as a relatively sympathetic madman driven to an insane endgame by the personal cost of international apathy.

Clooney plays Marine Lieutenant Colonel Tom Devoe, a special-ops/military espionage type who specializes in difficult missions blending covert combat and intelligence operations. The film begins with an ϋber-cool action setpiece, as renegade Russian troops hijack nuclear warheads from a military train in Eastern Europe. Following the theft, Clooney is dispatched to support Dr. Julia Kelly (Kidman), a mid-level U.S. official responsible for tracking the smuggling of atomic materials. Because of her expertise in dealing with contraband nukes, Kidman ends up in charge of the U.S. response to the hijacking.

Now, I hear you all laughing out there. “Oh sure, another young, beautiful Hollywood actress playing a grim-faced scientist.” Scoff all you want, but as much as I have come to dislike her in recent years, Kidman does a great job selling the role. As of 2008, I’d really prefer that Kidman’s face not resemble a piece of albino baloney stretched over an embroidery frame, but as of 1997 she was a phenomenal actor when she wanted to turn it on, and she brings it strong in The Peacemaker.

It will not surprise you to learn, however, that this is Clooney’s film all the way. A shivery amalgam of John McClane, Jason Bourne and G.I. Joe, Clooney provides the tactical thinking and brute strength to support Kidman as she puzzles out the specific threat posed by the warhead. Clooney and Kidman then embark on a breathless international chase to track down the weapon, with Clooney using his network of military and intelligence contacts — including a nice turn by Armin Mueller-Stahl — to trace the route of the thieves, their transactions with the terrorist buyers, and the warhead’s ultimate destination. Clooney makes a thoroughly credible and engaging action hero, whether smashing up a Mercedes in a chase through the streets of Vienna or leading attack helicopters against a truck convoy carrying stolen arms. As Sergeant Apone would say, “Absolutely bad-ass!”

It’s not all candy and roses, of course. Clooney plays the quiet scenes with Kidman in full puppy-dog mode, leaning heavily on the habitual downward cast face/upward cast eyes, a lazy crutch for which he caught much shit from critics early in his career. The director and screenwriters made a wise decision not to bring a heavy romance angle, however, and the chemistry between Clooney and Kidman actually works well because little pressure is placed on the relationship. Initially butting heads as a traditional thinker-versus-warrior odd couple, they develop a pragmatic and sometimes humorous partnership out of necessity, which slowly turns into a bruised, blood-stained camaraderie in the face of catastrophic peril.

The film also deserves some credit for a terrorism-based plotline that doesn’t revolve around Arabs or Persians and keeps Islamic beliefs out of the mix. It’s refreshing to see an honest depiction not only of the ubiquity of terror-based warfare on civilians, but an unusually thoughtful take on how terrorism actually takes root in the lives of civilians who were once innocent themselves. The mysterious terrorist in The Peacemaker, the ultimate recipient of the warhead, is presented as exactly what terrorists must sometimes be: Ordinary people who got way the fuck lost in a severely deranged way because of some traumatic event. That’s no more an excuse for violence than a rotten childhood is for a child abuser, i.e., none, but I enjoy political thrillers much more when the context bears some resemblance to reality.

How the Pairing Held Up: Good whiskey plus George Clooney kicking much ass? Lovely.

Tastes Like: The golden fire in Cormac Mac Art’s Cup of the Gods.

Overall Rating: Four out of four Clooneys.

Ted Boynton is a dedicated sot who plans to leave his barstool to stalk Whit Stillman, now that someone has found Whit Stillman. Ted also manages to hold down a job and a wife, three hours each per day, whether they need it or not. Readers may scold, hector, admonish or taunt Ted by e-mailing him at [email protected]

The Peacemaker : Boozehound Cinephile / Ted Boynton

Boozehound Cinephile | December 18, 2008 |

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