Paradise Road Review

by Steve Rhodes (rhodes_steve AT tandem DOT com)
April 23rd, 1997

    A film review by Steve Rhodes
    Copyright 1997 Steve Rhodes

RATING (0 TO ****): ** 1/2

    Sincerity, in and of itself, does not a good film make. True stories, no matter how harrowing, will not guarantee that a movie made about them will become a compelling motion picture.

    So it is with writer and director Bruce Beresford's PARADISE ROAD. Beresford's directorial record overflows with inconsistencies. For every winner such as DRIVING MISS DAISY or TENDER MERCIES, there are flops like LAST DANCE or A GOOD MAN IN AFRICA. Bereford's movies click when they concentrate on a few characters who have a touching story to tell and a well developed script. In PARADISE ROAD -- a story of women held in a Japanese concentration camp during World War II -- the good and the bad points of the film quickly become apparent.

    Glenn Close, playing a character remarkably like Sarah Wheaton from SARAH, PLAIN AND TALL, gives an earnest reading of a prisoner of war who essentially becomes the prisoners' leader and choirmaster. Although she repeats roles she has done before, her character, Adrienne Pargiter, must be admired for her tremendous courage. Pauline Collins (SHIRLEY VALENTINE), as missionary Margaret Drummond, delivers the best performance in the show. Margaret gets most of the memorable, if sometimes corny, dialog. ("The will to survive is strong, stronger than anything." "I just can't bring myself to hate people. The worse they behave, the sorrier I feel for them.")

    Jennifer Ehle, who played Elizabeth Bennett in the PRIDE AND PREJUDICE mini-series, gives a touching performance as prisoner Rosemary Leighton-Jones. Frances McDormand plays a tough German-Jewish prisoner known as Dr. Verstak. And so on, which is the problem of the film in a nutshell. There are probably two dozen people with substantial parts. Only the very best of scripts, which this one is not, can bring that many characters to life.

    PARADISE ROAD was collected from the reminiscences of female prisoners of war under the Japanese during WW II. The screen adaptation suffers from the lack of any narrative drive. Although some of the individual vignettes are deeply moving, others seem no more than fillers.

    As a tearjerker based on true stories, the film delivers. Some of the scenes may have you wrenching in horror. Still, I found myself reflecting on my readings about German concentration camps and wondering about the film's veracity. I began to believe that the picture had sugar coated its message a bit to make it more palatable to the audience. As horrible as were a few incidents in the picture, I suspect that the reality was worse.

    Some of the women leave permanently to volunteer to work as prostitutes at the Japanese officers' club. The remaining prisoners derisively refer to the leavers as "The Satin Sheet Brigade." Like the rest of the story, this incident happens, but the movie is too busy to delve into it. What happened to these women we never find out.
    The glue that ties the stories together uses Adrienne Pargiter's classical training at the Royal Academy of Music. She organizes an "English Ladies Choir" in the camp where the prisoners use their voices as pseudo-instruments. Although undoubtedly true, it comes across as a Hollywood creation to make the camp more fun. If the writer had concentrated seriously on a relatively few characters and thrown out the schmaltzy choir subplot, the movie would have had much more power. As it is, the film is a heartwarming collage of incidents and characters that tease your imagination and assault your senses but leave you more curious than moved.

    PARADISE ROAD runs 1:55 but needs twice that length to flesh out all the characters. It is rated R for violence and bathing nudity. The film would be fine for teenagers if they can handle the torture scenes. I give the film a mild recommendation and ** 1/2.

_______________________________________________________________________ **** = A must see film.
*** = Excellent show. Look for it.
** = Average movie. Kind of enjoyable.
* = Poor show. Don't waste your money.
0 = Totally and painfully unbearable picture.

REVIEW WRITTEN ON: April 16, 1997

Opinions expressed are mine and not meant to reflect my employer's.

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