Beyond Borders

There are three chapters in “Beyond Borders,” each with a different feel and a different approach to being boring.

This is a groundbreaking film, really. While most movies insist on having “plots,” this one boldly proceeds without one, flying in the face of convention. The effect is unnerving. You sit there for a good 45 minutes thinking, “OK, shouldn’t the story have started by now? Shouldn’t something be happening?” But it doesn’t, and it never does, and why did you ever decide to watch this dour, morose drama in the first place?

Angelina Jolie plays Sarah Jordan, an American living in London in 1984 with her husband, Henry Bauford (Linus Roache), son of a mighty humanitarian/philanthropist. Sarah is moved by maverick humanitarian Nick Callahan (Clive Owen), who is tired of charities like the Baufords’ collecting so much money but then spending so much of it on administrative expenses and such. Nick is a doctor who goes to the people in need, brings them food and medicine, gets his hands dirty, so to speak. Charities are mostly useless, he says.

So Sarah gets a hold of some money and heads to a camp in Ethiopia to help out, a Great White Hope with huge, frightening lips. Thus begins the portion of the film that resembles nothing so much as a Sally Struthers “please send money” commercial, especially insofar as there is not a plot to speak of.

Nick and Sarah, inevitably, begin to fall in love, but this is implied more than shown. Soon she’s heading back to London, and then it’s 1989 and she and Henry have a son. She gets involved with Nick’s group again, this time in the jungles of Cambodia, where we finally get a good bit of drama and suspense involving warlords, a baby and a grenade. Then it’s back to nothing happening anymore, except for more inevitable sexual tension between Nick and Sarah.

Then it’s 1995, and Chechnya is the place to be. Nick has gone missing, and Sarah has to find him. More sterile, passionless events occur, set against the fitting backdrop of cold, snowy Eastern Europe. There are, at last, a couple of nice surprises before the film trudges to an end.

Ironically, Martin Campbell has directed action films before, including “Vertical Limit,” “The Mask of Zorro” and “GoldenEye.” So he’s familiar with the idea of things happening. Why he chose to forsake not just outrageous action but even elemental, character-based action, is beyond me, though the script, by first-timer Caspian Tredwell-Owen, gives him little to work with.

Clive Owen is a compelling presence in any film, including this one. His character, a renegade do-gooder with a James Bond streak, has life to him; all he needs is a movie.

If there are still Angelina Jolie fans in the world, they will be pleased to know she comports herself well enough in “Beyond Borders.” She expresses what little emotion she is allowed to express, and very nearly conveys true humanity. She and Owen both seem stifled by the tamped-down, lifeless film they’re stuck in. Someone send them help, please.

C- (2 hrs., 7 min.; R, a lot of harsh profanity, some very strong violence, some mild sexuality.)