Paradise Road is an enthralling film, and although I liked it, I felt cheated by it. I like when directors leave interpretation up to the audience, allowing us as viewers to take in the facts and determine the outcome. Director Bruce Beresford directs with a strict outline, spoon feeding us each and every turn. The film lacks any surprise as a result, diminishing in emotional investments. Subsequently, the characters lose their credibility as the film chugs along. It’s unfortunate that Bruce Beresford didn’t support his fine cast with a stronger script and a leaner production. Underneath the heavy-handed polish lies a grittier, more organic version of this film.

This film casts light on a seldom explored but extremely dark corner of World War II: Japanese internment camps. On top of this, it’s a camp for women. While it certainly channels a 70’s B-movie vibe (Prison Vixens) on paper, this is anything but. The film begins on a lavish ship in the midst of a gala ball. When the bombs begin to penetrate the hull of the ship, it is to the shocked dismay of the passengers. Their self-righteousness gave them a sense of invulnerability, and as they sit wet and cold in their life rafts, they begin to understand the true power of their enemy. This sequence, though beautifully executed on a technical level, fails to inspire awe as it so clearly dictated what happens. It leaves nothing to the imagination.

Adrienne Pargiter (Glenn Close) and Daisy Drummond (Pauline Collins), on the other hand, never doubted the power of their enemy. When they drift ashore the nearby island of Sumatra, they are taken into a devilish prison camp. The women are given little food or water and are subject to plenty of mental and physical abuse. These scenes are by no means modest. They honestly depict the torture and abuse, flipping a coin that on one side shows the plight of defenseless women and on the other Japanese soldiers seething with anger yet still in doubt of their actions. In doing so, the director has crafted a relationship that neither demonizes the Japanese nor sappily sympathizes with the victims. This is one of the few strong elements in the film.

Along with Susan Macarthy (Cate Blanchett), Dr. Verstak (Frances McDormand, sporting a forced German accent), and Topsy Merritt (Julianna Margulies), the women find a conduit through which to qualm their struggles: chorus. Glenn Close leads the women in choir, striking a chord not only amongst the imprisoned females but even the Japanese soldiers who watch them with reverence. These scenes are beautiful but still don’t make up for the lack of any emotional punch. This film was intended to be a tearjerker, rounded out with slow pans and dying characters, but never reaches the level it shoots for. To expound things even further, the film runs far too long.

It’s really too bad that this film wasn’t better, considering the caliber of the cast and crew behind the project. It comes off as a good Hallmark Channel project, good enough for a Sunday afternoon viewing for the sake of the history inherent within.

Kyle Kogan is a film critic living in Chicago.

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