Dir: Elie Chouraqui. 2000. France. 126 mins.
Prod cos: 7 Films Cinema, Le Studio Canal Plus, France 2 Cinema. Int'l Sales: StudioCanal (33) 1 44 43 98 00. Prod: Chouraqui. Scr: Chouraqui, Didier Le Pecheur, Isabel Ellsen, Michael Katims. DoP: Nicola Pecorini. Prod des: Giantito Burchiellaro. Ed: Jacques Wita, Ailo Auguste, Stephane Freess. Main cast: Andie MacDowell, David Strathairn, Elias Koteas, Adrian Brody, Brendan Gleeson.
The outstanding achievement of Harrison's Flowers is its battle scenes, which capture the brutality of war on a scale and in a detail rarely seen on screen. However, this very bleakness will make it an extremely tough prospect commercially, while the weak framing story and an unpersuasive central performance are additional strikes against it. Still, critical support on the festival circuit could pique the interest of adventurous arthouse distributors.
Harrison Lloyd (Strathairn) is a war photographer for Newsweek who has seen his fill of horrors and wants only to retire, pursuing his passion for rare flowers and spending time with his adoring wife (MacDowell) and two children. He is, however, persuaded to take on one final assignment: a conflict erupting in Yugoslavia (the year is 1991). After he is declared missing, presumed dead, in Northern Croatia, his wife, convinced he is still alive, goes on a kamikaze mission to bring him home.
She flies to Graz, rents a car with a friendly young man who thumbs a ride at the airport - and abruptly, shockingly, finds herself plunged into the heart of darkness. The car is shelled, her travelling companion killed and she is almost raped before falling in with a small band of reporter-photographers who, though all hardened war correspondents, can scarcely believe the holocaust unfolding before their eyes.
The war-is-hell message might not be a revelation, but the film (shot in the Czech Republic) gives an extraordinary sense of its unremitting tension and cruelty, and of its dehumanising effect on even decent people: among a generally excellent supporting cast, Brody is particularly memorable as a cynical journo who can only endure both war and peace on an adrenaline high. The major weakness is MacDowell, whose character isn't allowed to develop much dramatically, and who never convinces you she has the resources to survive in this world.