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Film review: Binoche not believable in 'Country'

French actress has tough time with the Afrikaans accent

Published: Friday, May 13 2005 12:00 a.m. MDT

IN MY COUNTRY — ** — Samuel L. Jackson, Juliette Binoche, Brendan Gleeson; rated R (violence, profanity, racial epithets, vulgarity, brief sex, brief gore); see Page W2 for theaters.

"In My Country" has a credibility problem. Its star, Juliette Binoche, may be a fine actress, but she's also very French. And no matter how hard she tries to perfect the tricky Afrikaans accent, she's simply not believable playing a South African poet.

That may explain why this drama starts out as a vehicle for Binoche and eventually turns into a vehicle for Samuel L. Jackson.

But it doesn't help that the two characters are forced into an impromptu romance. It doesn't work at all —not because of racial differences, but because there's so little heat or chemistry between the two actors.

This adaptation of Antjie Krog's autobiographical book "Country of My Skull" is filled with such wrong-headed Hollywood conventions.

Binoche plays the fictional equivalent of Krog, a poet-turned-journalist. Her character, Anna Malan, has volunteered to become a radio correspondent, to cover the 1996 South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings, which is examining apartheid violence and racial atrocities.

It's there that she meets Langston Whitfield (Jackson), a cynical Washington Post reporter who's also been assigned to cover the hearings.

Langston feels the commission process is a waste of time, and he's hoping to corner Colonel De Jager (Brendan Gleeson), a South African police leader who may have ordered several tortures and killings. Instead, he finds himself drawn to the idealistic and optimistic Anna, who believes the hearings are a crucial part of her country's healing process.

That subplot — and other promising material — is handled so clumsily that you'd never suspect the film was made by veteran director John Boorman ("Deliverance," "Hope & Glory"). And Binoche seems distracted, as if she's struggling to maintain her accent, which causes her performance to suffer. Jackson, however, is as watchable as always.

"In My Country" is rated R for some strong scenes of violence (shootings, as well as graphic descriptions of atrocities), occasional use of strong sexual profanity, racial epithets and crude sexual slang terms, a brief sex scene, and some brief gore. Running time: 103 minutes.


E-mail: jeff@desnews.com

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