Paradise Road is a prisoner-of-war movie that is by turns moving and obvious. The film opens in Singapore in 1942, at a posh upper-class cricket club, where, naturally, the inhabitants think themselves protected from war. No sooner is that said, than the Japanese forces begin bombarding the city. Soon, the women and children are forced to evacuate the city. However, after their ship departs, it is sunk by Japanese war planes. The survivors wash up on occupied Sumatra, where they find themselves put into a prison camp. Although conditions at the camp are cruel, and spirits are low, two women (Glenn Close and Pauline Collins) decide to form a vocal orchestra to unite the women and give them something to lift their hopes. Bruce Beresford directs this epic with a heavy hand. For example, in the introductory scenes, rather than merely showing the rich partying while Singapore burns, he has several characters boast that Singapore will never fall (of course the heroines of the story disagree, but their warnings go unheeded). This sort of overdirection continues throughout the production. Rather than letting the audience be moved by the plight of these women, he sets up elaborate schemes to shove you in the right emotional direction. To his credit, many of these schemes work. The choral arrangements which could have been sickeningly sappy, are rather touching. And, though you can see every move coming for miles, some of the cruel brutality manages to shock and horrify. A large part of the credit must go to the capable cast. In addition to Close and Collins, who does a wonderful job, other prisoners include Frances McDormand, Juliana Margulies, Cate Blanchet, and Joanna Ter Steege. Also doing a worthy job are Stan Egi as the cruel Japanese captain who maintains order in the camp, and Clyde Kusatsu as a debonair secret policeman who seethes evil. The film has its strength in the middle, as it takes a while to get rolling, and drifts away toward the end. Still, the film has its moments, and while that vocal orchestra performs, you find you don’t care that you are being so blatantly manipulated.
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