Lincoln Six-Echo (Ewan McGregor) and Jordan Two-Delta (Scarlett Johansson)--and with names like that you've got to be somewhat suspicious--are among the hundreds of residents of a contained facility somewhere in the not-too-distant future. They are told that they are survivors of a global ecological disaster and therefore must live under a carefully controlled environment with their day-to-day lives monitored to the nth degree seemingly for their own good. The only way out is to be chosen to go to the Island the last uncontaminated spot on earth with the "lucky" few picked "randomly" from a lottery. Yeah right. Lincoln is curious about it all. He wants to know why he's there what's his purpose and is the Island really all there is. And his dogged inquisitiveness eventually leads him to the awful truth: the Island is a cruel hoax and he and his friend Jordan are in some deep doo-doo. See they're actually clones an insurance policy as it were who are more valuable dead than alive. So they run. And run. And then really run. Just like Logan 5 and Jessica 6 did in Logan's Run breaking through to the wondrous and dangerous world outside. Hot on their trail however are the powers that be. They obviously can't have their "product" running around willy-nilly. But Lincoln and Jordan want to live dammit and will stop at nothing to achieve their mission.
McGregor and Johansson are sufficiently scrubbed and polished as the near-perfect Lincoln and Jordan aptly conveying a childlike wonderment--first to their burgeoning feelings for one another at the facility then to the horror of the truth and finally to their new surroundings in the real world. The actors also fair well as action heroes as their characters get a crash course in how to outrun trained military operatives master high-tech machinery and well make love. It's not as easy as it looks let me tell you--except maybe the last thing. I mean crashing a hovercraft-like motorcycle through a high-rise building and falling several hundred feet with nary a scratch on them is pretty darn impressive. The beauteous pair are also supported by an eclectic group. They include Djimon Hounsou (In America) as the mysterious special ops leader relentlessly hunting down Jordan and Lincoln and Sean Bean (Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring) as the morally compromised doctor running the cloning institute. And if you want to add a little screwy humor to your full-blown action flick hire Steve Buscemi (remember him in Con Air?). He plays a technician at the facility who befriends Lincoln--and lets him know how it really is.
Director Michael Bay--known for such vapid but action-packed thrillers as The Rock Armageddon and the Bad Boys series--hasn't ever made a film without his anchor the grand pooh-bah himself producer Jerry Bruckheimer. The Island is the first time the director is flying solo--and apparently Bruckheimer was a little peeved when he found out about it. According to Entertainment Weekly the producer told Bay "Just so you know we passed on it." Ouch. But you know what? Bay does just fine without the Bruckmeister turning in his most compelling movie to date--and that's really saying something. Screenwriter Caspian Tredwell-Owen obviously influenced by George Orwell's 1984 and the campy 1976 Logan's Run turned in an original script that was a tad too cerebral; it had to be Bay-ified. So young writing upstarts Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci were brought in to add that all-important action elements. Of course the idea that sometime in the future for the right amount of money you could have a clone made of yourself to use in case something happens to you seems intriguing. And mix some good old-fashioned run-for-your-life smash 'em ups the combination pays off.
Don't expect too many happy moments in Beyond Borders. Even though it follows a rather tepid romance the movie is more a travelogue of third-world horrors than anything else. Separated into three time periods the film begins in 1984 when newly married socialite Sarah Jordan (Angelina Jolie) first sees renegade doctor Nick Callahan (Clive Owen) at a London event delivering a fiery plea on behalf of starving children in Ethiopia. His intense commitment stirs Sarah's soul--so much so that she drops everything to take food and supplies to the dusty drought-ridden area herself. In Ethiopia she meets the unorthodox doctor face to face and witnesses the determination that he and his non-governmental organization (NGO) in saving lives. Sarah and Nick make a connection but Nick is too involved in his work to act on it and she is married after all (sigh). Four years later Sarah's marriage has turned sour but she now has a son and a life's passion working for the United Nations refugee agency. When the opportunity arises to see Nick again Sarah travels to Cambodia at the height of country's bloody civil war with a shipment of medical supplies. Amidst life-threatening situations she and Nick consummate their feelings for one another at last. But alas Nick is aware his devotion to his work hampers his capacity for love and he leaves her again (heavy sigh). The final segment takes place five years later when Sarah sets out on a quest to rescue Nick who has been captured in war-torn Chechnya. Will Sarah be able to save him so they can finally be reunited? Remember there are no happy moments in this film.
After reading the script for Beyond Borders which was filmed in 2001 Angelina Jolie began her real-life UN efforts so in a way Jolie's fictional alter ego reflects the Oscar-winning actress' real life. As Sarah learns about third-world strife she decides to dedicate her life to helping others through the United Nations as did Jolie who became a Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in 2001 a role she has extended for two more years. In Beyond Borders whether Sarah is nursing a child near death from starvation or standing up to a corrupt Cambodian general it's empowering to see Jolie the humanitarian pouring out her true feelings on screen. Owen (Gosford Park) does a more than believable job as the hard-bitten Nick who plays the character full of fury and grace as he is willing even to sell his soul to the devil--in this case a CIA operative who uses Nick to transport anything from secret documents to guns to the troubled areas in exchange for money to fund the NGO's efforts. Yet the film's main flaw lies in the lack of chemistry between Nick and Sarah. Nick is the smarter of the two--he knows his one true love is his work. Sarah is just too besotted to realize their affair--and her character arc--is doomed from the start.
Director Martin Campbell knows how to create spectacular vistas having directed such scenery-heavy films such as Vertical Limit and GoldenEye. From London's gray skies to Ethiopia's orange desert Cambodia's lush greenery to Chechnya's stark white winter Campbell's film is a visually stimulating treat. By far the most moving and alarming scenes take place in Ethiopia which was filmed on location in Africa's Namib desert. Seeing the emaciated (albeit mostly CGI) bodies of the dead and dying in the choking desert is enough to move anyone into humanitarian action. Be that as it may Borders should stop for a moment and give more history on the conflicts brewing in each beautiful yet troubled region--particularly by the time we get to Chechnya (actually Quebec). Rather than give any background on the region's raging civil war it simply shows bombed-out buildings and shooting in the streets and follows Sarah into the snowy woods on the search for Nick. While the other parts of Beyond Borders inspire your spirit this last part focuses solely on the love story and frankly it's just not as interesting