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Shoulda Taken the Summer Job

Two naive young Westerners tangle with Thai justice on a post-grad trip abroad.

May 24, 1998|Donald Chase | Donald Chase is a writer based in New York

If Danes is the right age and nationality for her role, Beckinsale is a 23-year-old Englishwoman, and in a hotel-room interview, just about the poised, rose petal-skinned Platonic ideal of the species. But neither her Connecticut accent in "The Last Days of Disco" nor Darlene's flatter Midwestern one daunted her, maybe because of the ear she developed while studying French and Russian at Oxford. That's where she was at 18, and getting more attention on campus than she wanted because of her role in Kenneth Branagh's "Much Ado About Nothing," so she won't exactly be revisiting her own past as Darlene.

"I don't think I was ever a typical 18-year-old, so whether I was 18 or not 18, it would be a character part," she laughs.

Pullman says one main reason for his doing the film, oddly, was rooted in his last movie, shot in the Philippines.

"Last fall, when I was in Guadalcanal doing Terry Malick's 'The Thin Red Line,' " he says in the production office. "I was seeing all these expatriates we were using as extras. And I got really curious about what it is to live outside your own country." Mere weeks later, he had an offer to play "Brokedown Palace's" Hank Greene, an opportunity to satisfy that curiosity if ever there was one.

"I think of Hank as being almost philosophically disappointed in America," Pullman says. "And then, after moving to Thailand and marrying a Thai woman [Jacqueline Kim, of "Volcano"] and adapting to Thai culture and a kind of Buddhist-oriented world, as still being frustrated."

Yet the seat of the emotion in "Brokedown Palace" is obviously the friendship between the Danes and Beckinsale characters.

"You have this relationship between two young women that I've never seen on the screen before," says Kaplan, who has made his reputation directing interesting women's performances, including Bonnie Bedelia's in "Heart Like a Wheel" and Jodie Foster's in "The Accused." "And I just thought the script treated it with so much respect, treated them with so much respect. And I also think that when one girl [Danes' Alice] is incredibly needy and doesn't want to let go, and the other one [Beckinsale's Darlene] is ready to go out into the world, it's a major rite of passage that's almost a death--and a very compelling story."

For Kaplan, while he's obviously not skimping on the stress-inducing horrors of Alice and Darlene's arrest, trial and imprisonment, ringing cautionary bells is not his first concern.

" 'The Accused,' he says, "involved the issue of gang rape from the victim's point of view." Jodie Foster was the victim; Kelly McGillis prosecuted the case on her behalf. "And this was at a time--the Reagan years--when it was sort of trendy to blame the victim." But, he adds, "as a director, I didn't say, 'I'm making a movie about the blame-the-victim syndrome.' I said, 'I'm making a movie about these two women, and how they become friends and more than friends in order to save each other's lives.'

"Similarly, here, my focus is on telling the story of these two young women in an entertaining and truthful way. If the movie serves as a warning to people not to carry drugs across foreign borders, that's fine. But that's not why I'm making the movie."

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