Triage (2009) Dir. Danis Tanovic
Starring: Colin Farrell, Paz Vega, Branko Djuric, Jamie Sives and Christopher Lee
Guest Review By Greg Klymkiw
During the first thirty minutes of “Triage”, one is convinced the movie is going to be good – maybe even great. Based upon the novel by Scott Anderson, the screenplay is adapted by its director Danis Tanovic, the talented Bosnian filmmaker who previously delivered the powerful multi-award-and-Oscar-winning “No Man’s Land”.
Alas, all the film’s early promise dissipates when the narrative takes a fatal turn and the movie never recovers. The first problem is that it does not take the expected direction, which would have been entertaining, and even harrowing, but one can accept that the storytellers wished to move in a completely different and less conventional direction. This is all well and good, but the direction the story moves in is not only un-engaging, it offers the audience a dull perspective and ruins everything that MIGHT have been involving and arresting about the picture.
This really is too bad, because the first part of “Triage” is supremely gripping. Longtime friends and photojournalist partners Mark (Colin Farrell) and David (Jamie Sives) dive head first into the war-enflamed killing fields of Kurdistan, leaving their gorgeous wives behind on the home front. Both ladies, Elena (Paz Vega) and the pregnant Diane (Kelly Reilly) are understandably worried, but are also extremely supportive of their husbands’ talent and drive to capture the sickening realities of war for the world to see. Once in Kurdistan, the two men find themselves in a triage unit where a makeshift hospital has been set up in caves and tents. Presided over by Dr. Taizani (a great performance by Branko Djuric), the photographers are shocked at how the Doctor uses yellow and blue tags to respectively decide which wounded soldiers will receive treatment and which ones are too far-gone. The latter soldiers are mercy-killed with a bullet to the head – delivered by the Doctor himself. David has had quite enough and decides he’d rather be with his pregnant wife, so he leaves the zealous, photo-hungry Mark behind. The Kurds continue offensives against the Iraqis and Mark is badly wounded, but the Doctor awards him with a yellow tag, declaring him treatable. Mark and the Doctor strike up a close bond, but soon, it is obvious that Mark needs to return home to heal properly. And so he does.
So far, so good, but here is where the picture takes a major dive in the toilet.
When Mark is comfortably ensconced with his insanely beautiful sex kitten wifey, he is informed that David has not yet returned. Haunted by horrific dreams, Mark’s wounded legs give out completely. When his paralysis is deemed psychosomatic, Elena calls upon her estranged psychiatrist grandfather Joaquin (Christopher Lee) to heal hubby.
The rest of the movie is taken up with psychoanalysis, Mark whining, the ladies worrying and the mystery of David’s disappearance. Occasionally, the probing of the shrink (a very entertaining bit of thesping from Christopher Lee) wakes the audience up when Mark is forced to relive – via handy dandy flashbacks, a handful of war atrocities he has previously covered.
One might have been able to forgive this dull turn of events if the expected – albeit conventional dénouement had been Mark’s cure and a kick-ass “Deer Hunter” or “Rambo” styled trip back to Kurdistan to rescue David.
This does not happen. Instead, the movie builds to the inevitable revelation that David died and that Mark was responsible. Don’t get angry. This is not a spoiler. This revelation is so bone-headedly predictable after the first half-hour that one dismisses it outright as a possible story direction. When it happens, the groans of disappointment are palpable.
Even if the filmmakers had maintained this dullsville direction, the movie could have been saved if they hadn’t committed the biggest storytelling mistake – that is to keep this information as some sort of secret. If it had been revealed early on, we might have been able to engage emotionally with Mark’s character and Colin Farrell’s excellent performance would not have been scuttled. Mark’s struggles would have made far more narrative sense, but all we’re left with is the story of a whining loser photojournalist.
What this picture needed, finally, was a little cinematic triage during the development stage and maybe some of the mistakes it makes would have been more adequately addressed. Never fear, however, now that you know the “surprise” ending, which really comes as no surprise, you might actually be able to appreciate the story and Colin Farrell’s performance a lot more.
Thank Heaven for small mercies!
“Triage” is playing at the Toronto International Film Festival and will be released theatrically by E1 Entertainment.