A review of “The Beautiful Country” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ** 1/2

Rating: R for extreme violence and language

Run Time: 2 hours, 5 minutes. In English and Vietnamese, Mandarin and Cantonese with English subtitles

 

 

A melting pot of concepts and cultures comes together in this muddled but occasionally effective drama.

Social ostracism rears its ugly head for Vietnamese native Binh (Damien Nguyen) whose father was an American GI and who suffers the typically cruel taunts and barbs of his mixed heritage.

Determined to make a better future for himself Binh begins a long journey to the land of opportunity in search of his birthright.  Naturally it’s a long road to hoe as Binh endures the unspeakable horrors of a Malaysian refugee camp, where he meets and falls for a lovely Chinese prostitute named Ling (Bai Ling), and the indentured servitude of a barbarous human-trafficker (Tim Roth) on a brutal ocean crossing.

Once in New York City all is not as he dreamed.  Ling maintains her illicit activities while social pariah Binh suffers in silence, unwilling or unable to share his most intimate feelings.  Binh is also victim to numerous plot contrivances meant to convey the state of the cold, cruel world he reluctantly inhabits.

A haunting score is the most consistent pleasure of this inconsistent melodrama punctuated by stunning and sometimes shocking images.  Binh’s gentle quest offers glimpses both provocative and powerful –– fortitude in the face of immorality, etc. -- but Nguyen doesn’t possess the force of personality necessary to express the very real pain of his personal and poignant voyage. 

Director Hans Petter Moland relies on clumsy sentiment to compensate for lack of dynamic; a gratuitous and frustrating fix. Tidy climax complete with star turn by Nick Nolte is a fitting conclusion that ends on a requisite high note.