Both a musty throwback and a mushy example of contemporary knee-jerk humanism, Roger Spottiswoode’s derring-do melodrama turns the life of British journalist George Hogg into something from MGM’s heyday: suspiciously photogenic actors, exotic war-torn locales, foreign friends and foes that border on stereotypes. If anything, this wobbly film will induce a certain sense of nostalgia. In the old days, Gary Cooper, Clark Gable or Tyrone Power would have played the brave hero, with Ingrid Bergman or Loretta Young cast as the requisite romantic interest. Today we get Jonathan Rhys Meyers as the real-life reporter caught up in Japan’s invasion of China circa 1938, and Radha Mitchell as the Florence Nightingale–ish nurse who helps him lead dozens of orphans out of Nanking. We’ve been given a bum deal.
Neither are bad actors (see Match Point and High Art); rather, they’re decent performers nudged toward career lows. Rhys Meyers machine-gun scats every one of his lines in the same clipped boys-adventure cadence, while the Australian Mitchell’s losing battle with her American accent culminates in a singularly wooden line-reading (“Oh. Yes. I. Do.”). Once we meet resistance fighter Chow Yun-Fat—who turns the mere smoking of a cigarette into a three-act play—and opium-den proprietress Michelle Yeoh, the leads’ lack of charisma or chemistry is even more apparent. Had these Asian icons been given the lion’s share of the spotlight, the movie might have been somewhat compelling despite Spottiswoode’s failure to say anything about either this historical atrocity or current conflicts.