Welcome to Sarajevo - * * *

And the first War in Bosnia film makes it through the gates! Michael Winterbottom directs this messagey but good look at the troublesome conflict in Sarajevo, based on Michael Nicholson’s book.

Welcome to Sarajevo follows several journalists in the war torn city of Sarajevo. Although the film focuses on a variety of reporters, including American TV news celebrity Jordan Flynn (Woody Harrelson), the main character is British journalist Michael Henderson (Stephen Dillane).

As a war correspondent, he is amazed by his country’s lack of interest in the savagery that surrounds him. He latches onto one saccharine story which he is sure will touch the heartstrings of his viewers: an orphanage on the front lines. Governmental squabbling has prevented any evacuation, so Henderson examines the plight of the pitiful orphans, stuck in the middle of Hell with nowhere else to go.

However, he gets too close to one young girl, Emira (Emira Nusevic). When a charity worker (Marisa Tomei) is given permission to retrieve children with out-of-country relatives and newborns with good adoption potential, Michael hatches a scheme to smuggle Emira out of the warzone.

The problem with “message” films like this one is that all too often the film will grind to a halt as it pleads its agenda, or that the self-righteous weight of its message crushes the film beneath. That is partially true for Welcome to Sarajevo. It is definitely at its worst during its staged “message moments”.

Part of the problem is that the film doesn’t really take a strong stance on any position. It’s strongest views seem to be a condemnation of the various world governments for not interfering with the war related atrocities. At least the splicing of documentary footage with the movie footage is well done.

However, underneath it all, though it may not look like it at first, Welcome to Sarajevo has a definite plot, and it’s a good one, too. It takes several twists and turns, never quite going where you might expect a film like this would go.

Stephen Dillane provides the film’s moral center as the journalist who gets personally involved in his story. It’s not a showy role, but a subtle one, and one he handles well. The showy role here goes to Woody Harrelson, as the “wacky” journalist who gets to zing some of the film’s best barbs.

Though not a perfect film about the war in Bosnia (the film gives very little background information on the struggle), Welcome to Sarajevo fares much better on the level of an interesting personal drama.

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