It's getting harder to appreciate an immigrant saga like The Beautiful Country in which audiences are expected to be swayed by the poor and huddled masses. After all, isn't the United States a country of immigrants? To make such a film memorable, directors should try one of two things: Remind us of the importance of this notion through a distinctive personal narrative, or tell us something we haven't heard before. The Beautiful Country flirts with both possibilities, but not enough to produce something memorable.
In 1990 Vietnam, Binh (newcomer Damien Nguyen) has an even more difficult time because of his genetics. He's the product of a mixed marriage, a hasty but loving union of a Vietnamese mother and G.I. father, neither of whom he has seen in years. After he's forced out of his master/guardian's house, Binh, armed with little more than an old photograph and a bicycle, treks to Saigon where he reunites with his mother. A tragic accident forces another long, winding trek to America to find his father.
The details of The Beautiful Country make us take notice: the difficulty of Binh's life in Vietnam because of his father; the abusive class structure in Vietnam; the conditions Binh lives in when he moves to America (never mind the boat trip). Writer Sabina Murray doesn't delve enough into these little-discussed issues, the way director Joshua Marston did with drug smuggling in the harrowing Maria Full of Grace. Instead, the story's focuses on Binh's journey.
We never feel that it's his story. It'd be nice to know how long the resilient Binh bounced around the Vietnamese village or how he dealt with being marginalized in his own country. Outside factors force him to leave, but without any kind of personal reflection, you soon listen out of indifferent respect, the way a bored high school student would in your average history class. When Binh finally finds his father -- played with grizzled sympathy by Nick Nolte -- on the Texas prairie, it's hard to care. Without insight, and with Murray and director Hans Petter Moland's focus on Binh's trip, The Beautiful Country blends into all of our prior experiences with the immigrant's journey, whether it is through film, literature, or our own family histories.
Think of it another way: The reason why so many people follow sports is not because of the game, but because the storylines are different from season to season. There are new conflicts, new personalities. The games are fine, but the subplots continually give them new life. The Beautiful Country is OK on its own, well-acted and revealing in small ways. What it badly needs is Terrell Owens; in other words, a reason to pay attention.
She love you... ah, skip it.