Set during the Beirut war in 1983, “Deadlines” tracks a greenhorn war correspondent and the havoc his stories wreak — while making him a star. Codirected by two experienced journalists, former Newsweek correspondent Michael Alan Lerner and Dutch TV’s Ludi Boeken (director of “Britney Baby — One More Time”), the film realistically portrays the competitive/clubby relationships among war reporters and the adrenaline surge of chasing each new tragedy. More’s the pity their expertise is wasted on a genre story. Continual by-the-book injections of danger, glamour and excitement should help this decently slick thriller conquer action and small-screen markets.
Script and characters draw so heavily on genre cliches, it’s easy to overlook the film’s main point: that much of the news in print is bogus, poorly sourced and planted by governments. Pic also misses its chance to offer insight into the Lebanese war and America’s role in it. Rather than try to unravel Lebanon’s warring factions, admittedly a fearsome task, the directors just state the conflict is a muddle of alliances that change on a daily basis, which is enough to keep the bombs exploding and the atmosphere menacing.
The Ernie Pyle of the situation is good-looking Paris stringer Alex Randall (Stephen Moyer), who gets his foot in Beirut by cold-bloodedly stealing a friend’s job. His brash cynicism is appreciated by his paper’s office manager Abdul (Omid Djalili), who sends him to cover a hot story minutes after he arrives: a suicide bombing at the American naval base, with 241 Marines dead.
A bigger tip, however, comes from attractive French photographer Julia Muller (Anne Parillaud), a fearless veteran who scampers agilely with him through exploding missiles, armed patrols and sniper fire. She puts him on the scent of the Israeli secret services, and he eagerly rises to the bait. His story becomes a major scoop that catapults him to the top of Beirut’s reporting pack; unfortunately, it turns out to be wrong. Realizing he’s been duped (by Julia, among others) and feeling guilty over the innocent lives lost on account of his incendiary piece, he sets to work exposing the powerful but corrupt head of the Lebanese Christians — who happens to be Julia’s ex.
If Alex were really the ambitious, amoral, thrill-seeking guy he’s initially painted to be, and Julia as war-crazy as the “Stars and Stripes” reporter in “Full Metal Jacket,” there might have been a film here. But hard-core originality is not for “Deadlines.” Alex and Julia soon morph into heroic reporters and star-crossed lovers in a yawningly familiar finale.
Passable as a daredevil adventurer, Moyer shows such little emotion that it comes as a surprise when he becomes jealous of Julia. Parillaud, more enigmatic, struggles to find variations on her famous “Nikita” action role. Other characters are strictly stock.
Cinematographer Ivan Strasburg of “Bloody Sunday” goes for a hand-held, smoke-and-grain look that editor Suzanne Fenn cuts at often lightning speed. Wartime Beirut was convincingly reconstructed, in bits and pieces of falling masonry, in Tunisia.