harrison's flowers (2002)

director: elie chouraqui

andie macdowell, david strathairn, adrien brody

Itís a sad fact that itís often hard to invoke an immediate burst of sympathy for journalists who die in war zones. Unlike too many of the victims they cover, who didnít choose to become casualties, thereís always the suspicion that something more than altruism and a burning desire for the truth motivates many photographers, camera operators, writers and correspondents to risk their lives in global hotspots. Thereís a taint of ambition, and the hint of a pathology that thrives on chaos and suffering. 

Harrisonís Flowers, a movie about modern journalists at war, lightly touches on these issues, but mostly it gives its subjects the benefit of the doubt. Set in Croatia during the first stages of the recent Balkan wars, itís a mostly unflinching portrayal of modern war, and the specific atrocities committed in the Former Yugoslavia as that country cannibalized itself with the active encouragement of political monsters like Slobodan Milosevic.

Andie MacDowell is the wife of Harrison, a Pulitzer-prize winning war photographer whoís on the verge of retiring when heís sent by his bosses at Newsweek to cover the "ethnic skirmishes" breaking out in western Yugoslavia. He goes missing and she goes to pieces, locking herself in his office and studying the television footage until she convinces herself that heís still alive. 

She sneaks across the border into Croatia, and within minutes is confronted by the brutality of civil war, witnessing a summary execution before being nearly raped. Sheís saved by an artillery barrage, and picked up by a roving band of photographers, including  Kyle (Adrien Brody), a bitter, drug-addicted young freelancer and the nemesis of her pained, sainted Harrison. 

Kyle decides to redeem himself by helping her find her husband, and they set off for Vukovar, a town under seige by Serbian forces. There was, of course, no Pulitzer-winning Harrison Lloyd, but 11 photojournalists did die in the Balkans, and writer/director Elie Chouraqui manages to capture the anarchy and horror of that war far more honestly than the recent, execrable Balkan revenge fantasy, Behind Enemy Lines, and even coaxes a heartfelt, despairing performance from the often imperturbable MacDowell.

Thereís fantasy, though, in the very premise of Harrisonís rescue, and the film loses its nerve around the time that it introduces an entirely unnecessary voiceover by Elias Koteas, who plays a fellow photographer and Harrisonís best friend. As if unable to contemplate another second of war, MacDowell and her husband are whisked away from Yugoslavia to the haunted comforts of home and family, where a few tight hugs and hot tears hope to wash away the horror.