'Harrison's Flowers' is a harrowing drama set during the 1990s Balkan
wars, seen through the eyes of war photographers and correspondents. I
don't recall it getting a cinema release here in the UK - but caught up
with it on DVD.
The 'hook' of the story is that Sarah Lloyd (Andie MacDowell) travels to Croatia in 1991 to try to find and rescue her husband Harrison, a prize-winning journalist who is missing, presumed killed. (The flowers of the title are those in his greenhouse - tended in his absence by their young son). It's a contrivance - indeed, because we don't see the characters together for long, it's difficult to invest much in their relationship - but functions as the plot mechanism (however creaky) to get the heroine away from her safe life in the US into the war zone, where her adventures really start. So it's essentially a classic quest-and-rescue narrative - unusually, with a woman doing the seeking. (Hence, I suspect, some of the criticisms about Sarah's search risking orphaning her children; I'm not sure this would be raised if the sexes of missing person and seeker were reversed.)
The film does not glamourise the realities of late 20C Balkan warfare, graphically depicting the atrocities perpetrated by all sides in the wars which engulfed the former Yugoslavia. The story reaches its dramatic climax with the siege of Vukovar.
Adrien Brody gives an outstanding performance as the bitter, troubled but brave young front-line photojournalist Kyle Morris. Like many in his profession, Kyle takes drugs and swears like a trooper - but he also has courage, integrity, and the face of an El Greco saint. He is the real hero of the story, and Brody, a truly remarkable actor, comes to dominate the film. Brendan Gleeson is also excellent as his older colleague, Stevenson. It is refreshing, too, to see Andie MacDowell in a role in which she is not simply eye-candy/cute chick-flick heroine. The fact that Sarah is not always likable is one of the strengths of the film, and surely a sign that it is a European production: Hollywood films seem too hamstrung at times by worrying about making their protagonists 'likable' - flawed, difficult characters are more human and more interesting. Gerard Butler and Alun Armstrong, among others, provide good support.
As to whether Sarah finds Harrison, or if she and her friends make it home in one piece - I'm not saying: see the film! All I will say is, it did not turn out how I had expected, and my h/c complex kicked in significantly at one point.
On DVD, get the French 2-disc Special Edition if you can. There are deleted scenes (mainly Sarah and Harrison, family and friends in the US), cast interviews, a digital effects feature, theme song video, & c.. Sadly, the only UK release was a single disc with just a trailer. One of the deleted scenes addresses an issue which concerned some reviewers - Sarah's guilt-feelings about leaving her children. The interview with Adrien Brody (looking very handsome) is interesting: he discusses how he sees Kyle's relationship with Sarah, and also how he drew on his photographer mother's colleagues in portraying the character.
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