12 Jul 2022
Kourtney George, Nathaniel Buzolic, Dante Basco
The multi-faceted Norwegian polar explorer and diplomat, who was also a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, once said ‘I demolish my bridges behind me… then there is no choice but to move forward’. That’s the message which opens ‘Making Peace’ - it has very little to do with the actual plot.
Set in 1969 - still amid the civil rights movement and when racism in America was an even bigger problem than it is today - a woman, Janis (Kourtney George) is driving down a deserted desert highway when her VW camper van breaks down. Fortunately enough, a car pops up out of nowhere driven by the seemingly amiable Dennis (Nathaniel Buzolic) who pulls over to pick her up. Inexplicably, Janis decides it would be a smart idea to hold the man at gunpoint and force him to drive, rather than, you know, accepting the offer of a free ride. Illogical decisions like this are common throughout ‘Making Peace’, particularly regarding Janis’ character.
The two begin their road trip, a long journey, and Janis continues to threaten and act aggressively towards Dennis even though he has only helped her so far. Her only apparent reason for her hostility is the fact that he’s wearing a military uniform, having been off serving his country in Vietnam. Forgive me if my history is a little rusty, but were the soldiers who fought in Nam hated to such an extent. I was under the impression that, especially at the time, they were much revered by their fellow Americans back home. Strange.
Naturally, Janis has a deep and disturbing past which explains her aggression - a cop-out decision to attempt to justify her antagonism, made when scriptwriter Judah Ray realised his protagonist was extremely unlikeable. There are also a few fake-out deaths, plenty of plot twists, and some painfully awry lines of dialogue in a script which doesn’t at all match the high standard of Ray’s direction. The difference between the two is night and day, whilst the script is indescribably awful, the direction is surprisingly effective. The use of colour and lighting makes up for the fact that it neither looks nor feels like 1969, whilst some creative shots keep it inventive and help to restore a little bit of sympathy with Janis.
The actors, bless them, do their best with the script, and Kourtney George and Nathaniel Buzolic have good chemistry together, however, even they are languishing at times in the depths of bad dialogue. Perhaps the largest issue with ‘Making Peace’ is the aura of white saviour (there’s literally an evangelical glow around Dennis) which surrounds the entire plot. Janis is in a very confused and desperate mental state, it is Dennis, who is only treated by her with unkindness, who selflessly helps her out of that hole. This aura grows in significance when you consider the period of 1969 - as I said earlier, a period of immense racism. The script makes barely a reference to the issues faced by black people in the 1960s, in fact, it is Dennis who preaches that Janis has had it easy and that he’s grown up living a tough life. Now, that may be true, however, to completely discount Janis’ experience by not referring to the period’s racial tension feels disrespectful, to say the least.
There’s solace to be taken in the little things that ‘Making Peace’ does well - the acting and direction mainly - however, the botched script and overriding ignorance regarding the period means that this critic cannot make peace with the film.