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As someone who had lived through this war [I live in Osijek, town
frequently mentioned in the movie, only 30 kilometers from Vukovar] and
have seen the atrocities first hand, I'll start by commenting the
realistic value. To my surprise, the Harrison flowers turned out to be
very accurate in portraying what it was like. The details, such as
locations, army uniforms and equipment, names, places, scenes and the
geographic and historic facts, are pretty much all spot-on true. There
are few barely noticeable mistakes, but it'd be nitpicking on my behalf
even mentioning them. So, to anyone interested in seeing what the end
20th centuries warfare really looks like, I highly recommend it. It's
miles ahead of Holywoods cheezy Rambo-style war movies and by it's
ruthless realism it really is a visual kick in the gut.
As for the plot - the love story that serves as a guideline seems pretty much unnecessary and hard to believe. It has occurred to me that it'd be far more believable if Andie MacDowel was the photojournalist lost in the war-zone and her husband goes to get her out, not the other way around. So, those looking for a warm love tale, this will hardly be the best choice. Those interested in seeing the insanity of the easter-Europe 1991. war conflict, the cruelty and danger of modern photojournalism - I can hardly think of anything better than this.
'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.
Harrison's Flowers is a journey into a journalist's personal hell. While
some may feel that the premise of the story is rather lame and confabulated,
it serves a purpose. To show the human side of the photo journalists who
bring the horrors of the world to those of us who, as they noted in the
movie, are just worried about getting a parking ticket.
Too often when we non-journalists see photos of war zones we are horrified and, at the same time, we are dumbfounded as to how someone could be so inhuman and unfeeling as to photograph such graphic examples of man's inhumanity to man. Harrison's Flowers is excellent at showing us that just as a reader we can't stop looking at the horror even though we are revolted, the journalist cannot stop photographing and documenting it even though the human side of them is revolted as well.
As for Andie MacDowell's so-called wooden performance, one must remember that in this film she is seeing her husband's and his colleagues' world through their eyes for the first time. How quickly would any of us be able to break out of our shock-like trance and be totally outraged or emotional if this were the first time we were seeing it? Even the veteran photo journalist portrayed by Brendan Gleeson was paralyzed with shock more than once in the film. Andie MacDowell's character came from such an insulated world that seemingly emotionless shock was the perfect way to portray Sarah, who simply cannot fathom what she sees unfolding around her.
Harrison's Flowers is an excellent portrayal of the Serbo-Croatian hell that descended upon that part of Europe and irreparably tore apart the life of anyone in its path.
I just saw "Welcome to Sarajevo", a film that got a lot of press and
positive remarks when it came out. I only suspect that much of the press was
based on the fact that it came out only a couple of years after the end of
that terrible war in Bosnia.
Just as in "Welcome" this film also depicts the life of journalists, trying to understand and convey the happenings in a country once believed to be almost western. (Which, I suspect, is the reason that it had such an impact on the western psyche.) As everbody else has pointed out this is where the best characters are found, especially Adrian Brodys character.
Several others have already pointed out that the main story revolving around a lost love and an heroic wife trying to save her husband is really awkward. But since you need somekind of story, that might just as well be it. I saw this film a second time just recently and actually managed to ignore the plot and focuse on the description of the madness that was eastern Croatia in the early 1990´s.
This film has an incredible feeling, the settings, the photography and the score makes it come really close to being in an actual war. I cant really praise this enough. Compared to "Welcome" this film hits you in the guts as it shows the brutality of urban warfare and the senseless killings that occur in all wars.
Other films about Bosnia that are recommended if you like this one, "No mans land", "Pretty Village, Pretty fire" and "Savior". And why not give "Welcome" a chance too.
I doubt very many will ever get to see Harrison's flowers.
This is really the most misleadingly titled movie i can recall. The title
and the fact that it stars Andie MacDowell reaks cuddly romantic girl
Nothing could be farther from the truth !
Instead this movie turns out to be one of the better warmovies i've seen in recent years.
The story is actually similar to that of "saving private ryan" and it's portrayal of war as griping and realistic. Only this time we're not put into the shoes of soldiers storming up a bulletsprayed beach but in the shoes of the civilians that cover the wars: the photojournalists. And the heroics is not killing the enemy but simply to bring the world a glimpse of what goes on inside a the chaotic inferno that is a warzone.
Andie MacDowell plays Sarah Lloyd a suberban mother of two and voted "most unlikely to be found inside a warzone" in her highschool yearbook. When her husband "Harrison" (a roughneck newsweek warphotographer) goes missing in wartorn Croatia 1991. She basicly picks up a camera herself and goes over there to find him. Rather unbelievable but it works well to set up the real story.
This movie must be seen as a love story more than anything else, and it
works as a love story. However, to get an accurate picture of the war
between Yugoslavia and Croatia, Harrison's Flowers is not suited. Those
familiar with the history of the former Yugoslavia know that war crimes
took place in and around Vukovar, and in 1991-92, Serbian nationalist
paramilitaries of Arkan were responsible for heinous crimes. However,
the movie is very one-sided, and Serbians are presented as half-drunk
criminal villains while Croatians get the image of brave freedom
fighters. In fact, the vast majority of movies portray Serbians as the
villains, but I would claim that Croatians are maybe even more
nationalistic than the Serbs. Those who watch the movie should know
that Croatians were also responsible for killing civilians, especially
during Operation Storm in 1995.
I have gained operational experience myself as a war correspondent, and I know what is like to be under fire from mortars, artillery and snipers. Therefore I was very surprised to see how the reporters and photographers from the movie entered Vukovar wearing military camouflages trying to hide from snipers. I don't know any reporters who would do it like this because it makes you a legitimate target, and I doubt experienced reporters from Newsweek would do it like that. The goal of a journalist in a war area is to be seen. Yes, sometimes you have to avoid checkpoints to get to the other side, but to wear a military uniform is very, very stupid.
Now it has been a couple of days since I wrote my review, and there was another thing that bothered me in this movie. Sarah lands in the city of Graz in Austria making her way all through Croatia to get to Vukovar. If she really wanted to save her husband, it would have been a lot easier to get to Belgrade. From Belgrade there is only a two-hour drive to Vukovar, and the city was controlled by the Serbs at this point. I just spoke to a friend of mine who was an officer in Vukovar, and he said it would have been no problem for the character in the movie to get to Vukovar. Even if there were some paramilitaries present, the Yugoslav army, JNA, was in control.
For more about the Battle of Vukovar, Wikipedia has an interesting article, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Vukovar
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The plot is terribly unrealistic (read earlier comments, they are understatements) and designed for naive idiots, for whom the director is taking his audience. None, absolutely none of what happens to the main characters was possible. Their fancy, clean yuppie love, was put in the context of endless innocent deaths without much respect. Might the blind man in the wheelchair have two kids too? No help for him. Yeah, you'll say, he's not her loving husband. Stupid film. Full of historical and factual war goofs.
I've never seen any other movie like this before! Granted, my exposure
movies where photojournalists are in the midst of war, it gave a stunning
portrayal of how these levels of violence affect the people who take the
pictures that we see in magazines.
If you want to read about the plot, then you should read the other comments about this film. However, if you want comments, then consider these: While the movie does have a love story plot (wife tries to find husband in war-torn Eastern Europe), the presentation of the war scenes within the movie are phenomenal, giving it a "Saving Private Ryan" feeling.
As Sara (the wife) and the photographers look for Harrison Lloyd, not only do you see how far a wife will go in order to find her husband, but you also witness just how far photojournalists will go in order to save their own.
And if you ask me, the "Hollywood Ending" was absolutely necessary in order to justify showing the rest of the grim war scenes throughout the movie (they can be disturbing, but they aren't gory). Had the movie ended any other way, I think that the majority of the viewers would feel extremely depressed after sitting through a two-hour movie.
Definitely a great movie! This is one that will get a lot of playtime in my DVD player.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Andy McDowell can't seem to portray sympathetic characters. In "Four weddings and a funeral" I wanted Hugh to dump her. In "Sex, lies and videotapes" I knew she was frigid before they told us. It has something to do with those intense brown eyes being too close together, and her pent up, whiny angst. Now she plays a woman so obsessed with finding her (given up for dead famous war correspondent) husband that she roars off to a war zone without a backward look at her children. She then allows her husband's fame to sucker 3 other reporters into acting as protectors and guides, and when one of them gets killed she watches silently as another reporter apologizes for the death. She doesn't have a clue that her irresponsibility is the root of his death. This is supposed to be a love story but how can one tolerate a love from a mother who never shows any concern for the consequences to her children and those around her? Who needs another soul-less war movie these days anyway. They have so ground into the dirt the images of hell that they appear dispassionate. The hell of war is the damage it does to the human soul not just the damage it does to the body. When you show only the latter you're showing off technique and side stepping creative bravery.
This movie is simply made for watching on video or DVD. Here's the plan--the
first time through, watch all of it. But on subsequent viewings, just watch
the stuff that happens in Yugoslavia.
Except for the men's room scene after the Awards Banquet.
This movie is really, really frustrating to watch because you can't help but feel that the directors and other creative parties associated with the actual film were very dedicated to telling the story of the journalists and photographers who were trying to bring the truth of what was happening in the early days of the ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia to the screen. They were fascinated by the people who would willingly risk their lives to obtain images of the horrors and atrocities being carried out to the rest of the world, and what motivated them--made them tick. And they were enamoured of the character of Kyle Morris, as portrayed by Adrien Brody, and wished to showcase him in some way in order to drive the point home--that people like him were brave and admirable, no matter what their personal demons and failings.
Unfortunately for those of us who were hooked on this POV, they were also hamstrung, utterly, by the source material, which was a love story about a woman who would not believe her husband was dead, and whose dedication to finding him and whose devotion to him was convincing enough to cause persons such as are described in the preceding paragraph to risk life and limb to try to reunite this couple.
I don't want to use this space to snark. It's unseemly, given the seriousness of the subject matter. What I want to highlight is the way in which one of the performances affected me. The central figure of this movie from a standpoint of character arc is not Harrison, or his wife, Sarah, but Kyle Morris. We first see Kyle at a Pulitzer Awards dinner, where a grief-stricken, coke-addled Kyle Morris goes off on the Harrison Lloyd character. It's a show-stopper, and drenches everything else that happens in Yugoslavia with layers and layers of bitter irony.
The great stuff in this is movie is all about Adrien Brody's character Kyle Morris. This is probably the sort of character that a young actor just dreams of getting his teeth into. Kyle is one of those bundles of contradictions and contrasts that fascinates endlessly. He is an angry, foul-mouthed swaggerer with the gentle hands and soul of a poet, and a kind heart too easily touched. He is a drug user, which is usually portrayed as a character defect which goes along with being weak or afraid to face reality, but in his case, it is probably more a result of his trying to cope with having too MUCH courage and desire to walk into the bowels of real-life hells, like war-torn Yugoslavia. He is both cocksure and certain, and insecure, terrified he will never get recognized for what he is doing in trying to record the truth. He takes rebellious pride in being an outsider, but he churns with jealous resentment against those who seem to have "made it". This character is BRAVE, quick, resourceful, clever, with a crackling energy that suffuses every line, every expression, every move he makes. Brody brings a wild animal's instinctive quickness and 360 degree awareness of the environment to the role; you can almost see his large but sensitive nostrils quiver as he tests the wind for the scent of danger, and the way to safety. If I were going deep into the heart of the battle zone with nothing more than a camera bag and a sense of purpose, I would want no one else to take me there. When he wraps his arm around Sarah, and tells her to move, she obeys. I would, too. He seems to be tapped in to the undercurrents that flow beneath the reality that they see and hear around them, and sense shifts in the flow and direction that the others cannot, and acts on a combination of instinct and intelligence to get Sarah into a city which has become a charnel house where no badge or profession is respected or spared from the snipers and the bayonets.
I was fascinated by this character. It was the sort of portrayal that made one want to know more--what drives someone like that? What was his childhood like? Why did he risk all for someone like Sarah?
Unfortunately, this portrayal and character threw the whole film off-balance, and made the putative heroine seem self-absorbed and unlikable in the end.
I recommend this movie for the brilliant footage of the journalists and Sarah working their way through war-torn Yugoslavia, for the harrowing urban combat scenes, and for Brody's performance.
I can't, however, give it more than 8 stars, since it committed the primary infraction of rendering its heroine unlikable in certain ways, without redemption or the change brought about by a true character arc.
Also, Harrison and Sarah's son was sort of creepy. Sorry, but there it is.
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