Beta: Honorary Consul, The / Beyond the Limit (1983)

November 14, 2014 | By


BeyondTheLimit_BetaFilm: Good

Transfer:  Good

Extras:  n/a

Label: Paramount

Region: n/a (NTSC)

Released:  n/a

Genre:  Suspense / Drama

Synopsis: A politically neutral doctor in Northern Argentina becomes embroiled in a botched kidnapping.

Special Features:  n/a




This film version of Graham Greene’s 1973 novel The Honorary Consul (released in the U.S. as Beyond the Limit) features a high-end cast and crew, but the dourness of the material coupled with a flat screenplay by playwright Christopher Hampton (Dangerous Liaisons) make this kidnapping crisis set somewhere in northern Argentina rather dull.

The twists of Greene’s story don’t come into play until the middle, leaving director John Mackenzie a lot of screen time to establish compelling versions of the three characters caught in a kind of blindered love triangle, in which half British / Uruguayan doctor Plarr (Richard Gere) is attracted to a local whore Clara (Elpidia Carrillo) but is forced to engage in behind-the-scenes activities when she marries the local honorary consul, Charley Fortnum (Michael Caine), a thorn to Britain’s diplomatic team for his public drunkenness and wily ways.

Naturally, the pair’s itinerant afternoon flings can’t continue without some interruption: police head Colonel Perez (Bob Hoskins) lets on his own knowledge of the inappropriate affair which he feels will doom Plarr; and two of Plarr’s childhood friends emerge with a plot to snatch the U.S. ambassador to highlight issues or torture and murder in Uruguay.

Mackenzie’s direction becomes taut when the kidnapping plot emerges and things go seriously wrong – a quirk results in worthless Fortnum being grabbed instead of the valuable American diplomat – and Plarr has to hide aspects of his affair while trying to gain Fortnun’s release, but there are some awkward scenes that feel careless from a directorial and scriptwriting stance – staging Plarr and Clara’s romantic behaviour in the open when the former knows Col. Perez’ men are on the prowl.

As a character, Plarr is so arrogant that he feels invincible and in control of the mounting chaos he’s essentially seeded, and like a desperate doctor with a terminal patient, he’s quickly overwhelmed by new flare-ups that prevent any measure of stabilization.

Plarr’s initial lack of taking responsibility for his actions becomes a vital theme which decides his fate in the nihilistic finale, and what manages to save an otherwise uneven film (if not temper Gere’s efforts to maintain a semblance of a British accent) are the genuinely compelling performances by Caine as a drunk truly in love with absurdly young Clara, and Carrillo, who portrays Clara as neither a prostitute nor classic erotic jail-bait or femme fatale. She’s a mixed up kid, and Carrillo’s quiet performance style ensures the eroticism in the film’s frank scenes feel natural instead of blatantly teasing.

As Fortnum acknowledges in the film’s affecting end scene, Plarr was jealous of the old drunk’s ability to love, but a serious flaw in the script is a total lack of explanation (or inference) as to why Plarr was such an emotionally distant man, was driven by ego, and while a caring doctor, walked through life in a thoroughly non-committal daze.

His father’s torture in Uruguay may have forced Plarr to build up a wall of blandness for survival, but it also robs the film’s central character of any memorable qualities, a problem worsened by the casting of Gere as a half-Brit. Hoskins is equally wobbly as a South American Colonel, but Gere’s just so bland, lacking the ability to convey needed subtleties to convey Plarr’s inner turmoil; he’s not awful, but he’s more successful as a modelesque doctor zipping in & out of impeccable suits than a deeply conflicted, morally blunted anti-hero.

In spite of its pedigree, Mackenzie – who directed Caine in the solid thriller The Fourth Protocol (1987) – favours long takes for two-character exchanges where one character is consistently kept in soft focus, as though the greater star in any given shot is always entitled to master coverage. Stuart Baird’s editing may be tight in the action scenes, but there are weird cuts that lack continuity and fluidity in standard transition and straight dialogue exchanges – either due to bad coverage, or moments of odd editorial judgment.

More effective is Stanley Myers’ largely synth score, which is admittedly dated but in tune with Phil Meheux’ gorgeous lighting and crisp cinematography; this is a decidedly eighties drama, but the muted pastel colours – pink, green, brown – are very tasteful, and the compositions quite ravishing. Myers’ music is supposedly based around a central theme by Paul McCartney (!) with guitar work from John Williams (Myers had previously collaborated with guitarist Williams on The Deer Hunter), and there’s extra music contributions from Richard Harvey.

Certainly in need of  proper HD widescreen / stereo release, The Honorary Consul’s a flawed but intriguing late-Greene adaptation, and the supporting cast is quite memorable: Elpidia / Elpedia Carillo also appeared in a string of American films – The Border (1982), Under Fire (1983), Salvador (1986), Let’s Get Harry (1986), and Predator (1987) – before scaling back her career; A Martinez would make a bigger splash in daytime soaps, starting with Santa Barbara (1984-1992); and Joaquim de Almeida would become best-known as the delightful mean Bucho in Robert Rodriguez’ Desperado (1995).



© 2014 Mark R. Hasan



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