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Harrison's Flowers

A woman searches for her husband, a photojournalist for Newseek magazine, after he disappears in the former Yugoslavia during Croatia's war of secession against Serb rebels backed by the Yugoslav army.


Harrison Lloyd (David Strathairn) is a world-renowned, Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist who has it all: a devoted wife, two beautiful children and an illustrious career. Although his wife Sarah (Andie MacDowell) is supportive of his career, she wishes Harrison would spend more time at home being a husband and father rather than gallivanting around the world, taking pictures. Before long, Harrison is whisked off overseas to cover bloody ethnic conflicts in Yugoslavia and is presumed dead after the Yugoslav National Army flattens the town he is in. Sarah, however, is convinced Harrison is still alive because ''something would have broken inside if he were dead.'' She barricades herself into a room with half a dozen televisions, determined to uncover something about her husband's whereabouts. Miraculously, she sees an image of Harrison in a crowd of civilians being hoarded to the small Croatian town of Vukovar and decides to go there herself and bring him back alive. Despite warnings that war-torn Yugoslavia is not the place for her, she manages to dodge bullets and Soviet T-55 tanks while waving around a 5x7 color glossy of Harrison, yelling, ''Have you seen this man?''


As Sarah, Harrison's devoted wife, Andie MacDowell (Four Weddings and a Funeral) is convincing but irritating. While we feel for her and desperately want her to find her husband alive, there is nothing more annoying than watching her traipsing around, yelling, ''Harrison? Harrison!'' while the destruction of what was once the breadbasket of the region happens all around her. Adrien Brody (Summer of Sam) plays Kyle, Harrison's archnemesis, who ends up helping Sarah in her efforts to find Harrison. Brody is probably the most believable and well-developed character in the film, despite hokey lines like, ''We better both pray that some day, we find somebody that loves us the way she loves him.'' No one actually talks like that, do they? In the role of Harrison's friend and colleague Yeager is Elias Koteas (The Thin Red Line). His character is supposed to be this famous photographer (we know this because he is credited for that famous photograph of the confrontation between a Chinese student and a T-59 tank during the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstration), but he is completely despicable. He comes off as a pompous know-it-all rather than a good friend to the Lloyds.


Director Elie Chouraqui wants us to believe MacDowell's character is this brave, devoted wife, but I found it hard to sympathize with her predicament. Sure, it's sad that Harrison is missing and all, but forgive me if I found myself more troubled by the execution of thousands of innocent men, women and children instead. And in Vukovar, amidst the dead bodies of Serbs and Croats, she still finds time to take pictures and send them back to the press in the United States. The pictures come out crisp and sharp despite the fact that she shoots most of them in the dark--without a flash. Come on! What takes the cake, however, is the blatant Schindler's List rip-off: We see a little girl in a yellow dress who stops and smiles for a picture, only to end up dead later in the film, with a photographer exclaiming, ''It's the girl in the yellow dress!'' It is also hard to buy the film's plot when when all we really know about Harrison is that he likes flowers, which are the only thing he photographs in color. Overall, Sarah's plight to find her husband almost seems petty in lieu of what is going around her.

Bottom Line

In a war that lasted six months and killed an estimated 10,000 people, Harrison's Flowers expects audiences to be moved by the disappearance of a snotty photojournalist that we know nothing about. Although the film paints a gritty and realistic portrait of what happened in southeastern Europe in 1991, it's hard to care for any of the characters and their circumstances.