Retitled from The Honorary Consul and sold in America with one of Paramount’s sleaziest ad campaigns, John MacKenzie and Christopher Hampton’s adaptation of a Graham Greene novel features a fine Michael Caine performance, but prefers to stress sex scenes between star Richard Gere and Elpidia Carrillo. Just call it ‘Lust in the Argentine Littoral’ — but performed in English.
Beyond the Limit (The Honorary Consul)
1983 / Color / 1:85 widescreen / 104 min. / Street Date January 10, 2019 / Available through Amazon.de / EUR 14,99
Starring: Michael Caine, Richard Gere, Bob Hoskins, Elpidia Carrillo, Joaquim de Almeida, A Martinez, Stephanie Cotsirilos, Domingo Ambriz, Geoffrey Palmer, Jorge Russek, Erika Carlsson, George Belanger.
Cinematography: Phil Meheux
Film Editor: Stuart Baird
Original Music: Stanley Myers
Written by Christopher Hampton from the novel by Graham Greene
Produced by Norma Heyman
Directed by John Mackenzie
Director John Mackenzie, fresh off his marvelous gift to the gangster film The Long Good Friday, teamed with producer Norma Heyman to do a Graham Greene adaptation. Everybody remembers The Third Man, but Greene adaptations have surfaced many times as exemplary films: Brighton Rock, The Fugitive, Our Man in Havana, The Fallen Idol. During WW2 four Greene stories were adapted in quick order, for This Gun for Hire, Went the Day Well?, Ministry of Fear and Confidential Agent. Although often downplayed in the films, literary critics often stress the Catholic themes in Greene’s work, especially his twice-filmed The End of the Affair. That story’s main character makes a ‘bargain with God’ in a prayer, and then keeps his side of the bargain. Once one understands Greene’s fundamental commitment to faith-based philosophy, Catholic themes of atonement and confession pop up in most everything Graham writes, not just his novels with overt religious themes.
The 1973 book The Honorary Consul was a favorite of the author, but producer Heyman couldn’t get a film going until she interested the hot actor Richard Gere in the project. The resulting movie retained its title in the U.K., but for America Paramount gave it the generic, meaningless Beyond the Limit, and sold it as a sexy Richard Gere vehicle with an unusually trashy poster. The well-written script is by Christopher Hampton, the screenwriter of high-toned fare like Carrington, 1995’s The Secret Agent and Atonement.
The film plays similarly to The Quiet American, if only because of two Anglos’ interest in an ‘exotic’ woman, in a corner of the world in political turmoil. Greene had impeccable timing for living and working in places just before they became international hot spots: Africa, Southeast Asia and Cuba. The background of this story is the twin military dictatorships in Argentina and Paraguay.
Doctor Eduardo Plarr (Richard Gere), a Paraguayan by birth, has relocated his clinic to Argentina’s northern city of Corrientes. He and his mother fled Paraguay years before, and his English father is still a political prisoner in that neighboring country. Eduardo meets the region’s Honorary English Consul Charley Fortnoy (Michael Caine), a heavy drinker, and helps him get from a bar to a fancy brothel. There Eduardo notices a beautiful prostitute. Police Colonel Perez (Bob Hoskins) befriends Dr. Plarr, although he really wants to keep tabs on him. Plarr is also contacted by an old friend from Paraguay, Leon (Joaquim de Almeida) who promises to get news of Plarr’s imprisoned father. Plarr is disappointed to find that the prostitute he fancied, Clara (Elpidia Carrillo) has left the brothel. Almost immediately he discovers that she is the new wife of Charley Fortnoy. Clara is so much a peasant that she’s never been in an elevator. She’s attracted to Plarr as well, and soon they are carrying on a passionate affair behind Charley’s back. The complications begin to compound when Leon and his associates ask Dr. Plarr to find out when the American Ambassador is visiting. They want to kidnap him and exchange him for Paraguayan political prisoners — including Eduardo’s father. As the day of the Ambassador’s visit nears, Eduardo confirms to Charley that Clara is pregnant. She tells Eduardo that he, not her husband, is the father. The kidnapping takes place on a sightseeing excursion to view a famous waterfall. It goes well, with one hitch: Leon and his bandits mistake Charley for the American.
Beyond the Limit is seriously compromised by its star casting. There’s nothing at all wrong with Michael Caine, whose performance as the corrupt ‘substitute Consul’ in an Argentinian backwater is heartfelt and moving. Charley Fortnoy is a flawed guy who doesn’t realize that his ‘native’ wife doesn’t love him. Charley’s tragic situation becomes absurd when we discover that nobody is interested in saving him from his captors. The Argentinians don’t want to get involved, and the Brits considered Charley an embarrassment and a liability before he married a prostitute. The Americans don’t care that Charley inadvertently ‘saved’ their Ambassador, as they are on the side of the anti-Communist Paraguayans anyway.
Richard Gere is a different story. It isn’t too important that he doesn’t seem South American or English; Dr. Plarr isn’t supposed to have ever been in England. But Graham Greene’s Plarr is meant to be an ordinary, rather selfish fellow, not an outstandingly handsome ladykiller. In ‘star vehicle’ terms, we assume that Eduardo Plarr’s love for Clara is real, so when the doctor blurts out that he doesn’t love her, that she’s just a conquest, it just seems wrong. We think that maybe he’s lying, to gain some advantage with Charley’s kidnappers. Eduardo’s selfless gesture at the end therefore carries no weight, and comes off as stupidity — that he thinks for a moment he can publicly appeal to Colonel Perez, and get a positive response.
Only in the epilogue do we discover that Caine’s unlucky official has been deservingly sincere and loving all along, despite his deep faults. For most of the film’s running time we follow the handsome Dr. Plarr character, assuming that he’s a standard romantic protagonist.
The picture makes its hot-cha sex scenes between Eduardo and Carla into its reason-to-be, with several nude lovemaking episodes and frequent topless images of Elpidia Carrillo. Although the Carla character is more than credible — a powerless poor woman coveted by men of advantage — it’s more than a little depressing to see yet another movie that characterizes foreign women as childlike playthings, whose function is to help disaffected foreigners pass the time. Ms. Carrillo is as heartbreakingly endearing as she was in Tony Richardson’s The Border; we can imagine that the actress deciding to take the role because of her high-powered co-stars.
Looked at honestly, the movie treats the Carla character well. She remains at one level or another, a prostitute. Even with Eduardo she simply tries to give him what he wants. Although she openly admits she doesn’t want Charley to come back, at the finale she’s once again saying what a man wants to hear, for simple survival’s sake. Those without choices love the ones they have to love.
The movie tries to take its political tragedy seriously, but it’s likely that few American viewers knew or cared about what was happening in South America in the 1970s. Backed by the United States, Generalissimo Alfred Stroessner kept up a repressive reign of terror in Paraguay for a full 35 years. Americans in 1983 were told nothing about that, and precious little about the repressive Argentinian government until the Falklands War in 1982. When the movie shows a prisoner dripping blood as he’s dragged down a hallway, viewers may assume that the setting is a generic South American country — who ever heard of the river city of Corrientes? The movie has other unpleasant content that’s difficult for casual viewers to digest. Director MacKenzie depicts quick cuts to prisoners being submerged in a bathtub filled with excrement, a story-telling choice that just seems tasteless without a political context.
The Falklands/Malvinas War apparently prompted a last-minute filming relocation to Mexico, which doesn’t hurt anything I can see. That all the Latins speak English instead of Spanish is not a plus. Bob Hoskins is excellent as usual as the interesting Colonel Perez, another in a long line of compromised Graham Greene policemen in a police state, but his utter British-ness further tilts us toward a ‘movie’ context, away from sordid political reality. Spoken by the essentially likable Hoskins, Perez’s excuse for his brutalities isn’t as hard as it should be: “The way I look at it, if a country hands itself over to the irrationals, it’s every man for himself”. Nowhere else do we see Perez admitting any disagreement with the oppressive status quo.
Handsomely produced, Beyond the Limit makes sure to give plenty of screen time to attractive shots of Richard Gere and Elpidia Carrillo making love — this is prime viewing if one’s idea of a thrill is Gere’s rippling rump in action. Even with its imbalance toward sex scenes, the show slips into the above-mentioned stack of ‘Brit abroad’ intrigue pictures from Graham Greene, plus some significant shows by others — John Huston’s We Were Strangers, John Boorman’s The Tailor of Panama. The obvious sex angle and title change for the American release did the picture no favors, and critics found the Richard Gere character to be a real muddle.
Fans of Richard Gere and Michael Caine will likely enjoy the show: Gere is good and Caine is very good. 1983 is technically smack in the middle of Caine’s legendary take-any-paycheck-role-no-matter-how-awful period, yet in the same year he was nominated for an Oscar for Educating Rita.
Explosive Media’s Blu-ray of Beyond the Limit is a good encoding of this attractively-shot thriller. Colors are somewhat muted here and there, but that might have been intentional. The locations look terrific and the lighting for the sex scenes is attractive. The soundtrack is easy on the ears, and not overloaded with ‘Latin’ themes: Stanley Myers is the composer of note, but the main theme is prominently credited to Paul McCartney and John Williams.
The print on view uses the British title The Honorary Consul.
Explosive includes a trailer and a photo gallery. Although a German import, the disc plays on Region A equipment; to hear the original English track one must first choose it in the menu, for the disc defaults to Deutsch. The English subs have occasional spelling issues. The cover illustration sourced from Paramount’s American ad campaign looks like something for a sex movie.
Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Beyond the Limit
Movie: Good +/-
Video: Very Good
Sound: Very Good
Supplements: Trailer, image gallery
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English (feature only)
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: February 2, 2019
Text © Copyright 2019 Glenn Erickson