The Piss Taker

“We’re the good guys. We chase the bad guys. And they don’t wear black hats,” explains George Clooney early in The Peacemaker. They do however display a comforting predilection for black suits and black BMWs, making George’s bad guy chasing job not too difficult. Particularly when he is doing it in beige Dockers pants and a silver Mercedes. With that kind of sponsorship, how could he fail?
Dockers suit the Clooney cliché. Clooney the smoothie who can’t help messing up his life, but for whom everything falls fine in the end. Wrinkle-free trousers for an always presentable man who would be hard pressed to operate an iron. And the Clooney cliché fills the screen here. From the moment we hear him being reprimanded for being caught in a Russian night-club with a prostitute and a bar tab of $5600, we know we are on familiar ground. A few seconds later we are deluged by a (stereo)typical display of head forward-tilting, back-of-the-head scratching, to-himself chuckling and endearing eye-creasing. Clooney’s method is to play himself. Fortunately for Clooney, a hell of a lot of people seem to like that self.

Clooney plays the loose cannon soldier opposite Kidman’s pacifist nuclear arms negotiator. They are brought together to investigate the theft of nine nuclear warheads. Kidman is the boss. She signals this by asking of her soon-to- be-appointed deputy, “Make sure he can take orders from a woman.” Clooney can’t, but manages to get his way through a winning combination of shouting and shooting. Any attempt to explore gender politics is quickly sacrificed as the man in Kidman loses out to the screaming kid. But feminists can console themselves that if Kidman’s character fails because she is out of her depth, then Clooney’s succeeds because he has no depth out of which to be.

Feminist film theory would have us believe that guns are phalluses firing sperm-like bullets to rip vagina-like holes in their victims. It is this multiple vaginisation, this emasculation, that weakens and ultimately kills the victim. Guns are (stereo)typically fired by men scared of men at men. Women (stereo)typically play a more nurturing role. So it is here. Kidman finally shows what she is made of by unscrewing a bomb, by making a hole in it, by emasculating that most emasculating of weapons, by saving the day. Clooney does the killing to enable Kidman to do the saving. What a lovely pair man and woman make when they stick to their prescribed social and sexual roles.

And that is the major problem with The Peacemaker. Forget the plot holes bigger than any nuclear bomb could blow. Forget the lack of chemistry between the leads. (There’s about as much as one would expect to find between an arch narcissist and a rumoured lesbian.) The biggest problem with The Peacemaker is the way it rolls out the stereotypes. So we find bad Russians and even worse Sarajevans. But, in a nod to the détente, we also find a good Russian who dies. And, in a nod to the political complexity of the Bosnian crisis, we find a bad Sarajevan who is bad because he is a tortured artist; a sensitive man turned sociopath by the senseless sniper slaughter of his wife and daughter; a man who’s ultimately so sympathetic that the only person who can kill him is himself. Because for Clooney or Kidman to do that would be to compromise their likeability.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with stereotypes or clichés. As Yvonne Tasker cogently argues in her book Spectacular Bodies, part of the pleasure of the action film may be the near-Pavlovian doggian response of the viewer to the familiar and the predictable. But as she also points out, unlike their canine friends, most human viewers require a little tweaking and subversion of those stereotypes for real pleasure. The same but different, a little irony to iron in some wrinkles, is the order of the day. Like Clooney’s Dockers, The Peacemaker is just too smooth.

Clive Johnson


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