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Review: This ‘Peacemaker’ travels the globe in pursuit of conflict resolution through shared suffering

Padraig O’Malley in a scene from “The Peacemaker.” Credit: Central Square Films
Padraig O’Malley in the documentary “The Peacemaker.”
(Central Square Films)

Padraig O’Malley is, to put it mildly, a man on a mission. The fascinating subject of “The Peacemaker” is a restless traveler who has devoted most of his life to conflict resolution, organizing conferences on political hot spots including Iraq and Kosovo. As it follows him over a five-year period, into hotel gatherings and danger zones, James Demo’s sharp-eyed documentary lays waste to any assumption that inner peace is a requisite for O’Malley’s urgent work.

With his gaunt good looks, self-effacing humor and laser focus, the Dublin-born, Boston-based academic knows how to work a room — but not in the polished, facile manner of a politician. He’s no headline grabber but, in the words of a colleague, an instrumental “backroom player.”

A recovering alcoholic, O’Malley funds his activities with proceeds from a bar he once haunted and now owns. Having ingeniously borrowed a foundational concept from the 12-step model, he posits the idea of shared suffering as the starting point for problem-solving forums. Divided societies counsel one another — sometimes, as in the case of a South Africa-set conference on Northern Ireland, with groundbreaking results.

The weight of the world is evident in O’Malley’s dour gaze, but it’s clear too, in Demo’s sensitive, piercing portrait, that the endless job he’s carved out for himself is his lifeblood, and its own kind of addiction. Even as aging takes its toll, he’s still crisscrossing the globe in a dauntless pursuit, his sights set far beyond comforting conventional notions of happiness and love.

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‘The Peacemaker’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Playing: Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills

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