Tuesday, 19 August 2008

No.30 : White Hunter Black Heart

IMDb Link : http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0100928/

In this thinly disguised account of the shooting of ‘The African Queen’ Clint Eastwood plays an indebted director on a quest to shoot an elephant whilst on location in Africa.

Clint’s character, John Wilson (nee Huston), is a single minded idealist who is happy to stand up for the natives and Jews while simultaneously living high on the hog off his producers. An initial interest in big game hunting becomes an obsession as a large tusked elephant keeps avoiding his sights. Elsewhere the production begins to flounder due to the weather and his indifference.

As the film draws to a close the stars are on set and ready to shoot, but an elephant has been spotted nearby and tragedy is sure to follow.

It’s unusual that you can summarise the plot of a two hour film in little over a paragraph, but the beauty of this production is that it is character and not plot lead. Clint goes against type as the bombastic Jones who talks ten to the dozen and picks the odd fight on the side of justice. To temper him we have Jeff Fahey’s screenwriter who sees the director as selfish and obsessive, but also his access to Hollywood.

The sweeping vistas and wild life are beautifully shot and the evocation of 1950’s colonial Africa is great. The secondary cast is mostly British and it was fun to see who was going to pop up next - I counted at least two from both ‘Auf Wiedersen Pet’ and ‘Our Friends in the North’ and one from ‘Taggart’.

It was strange, and possibly diverting, that everything was one step removed from what you would expect with ‘The African Queen’ becoming ‘The African Trader’ and Bogie and Hepburn dead ringers, in all but name. Whether this was due to copyright or artistic reasons I don’t know but it did reduce the effect somewhat.

It’s always tough to see Clint as anything but Blondie or Dirty Harry but he made a good attempt at his character’s affected English accent, and despite all his faults he succeeded making him a likable yet flawed person.

This is one of the few Clint Eastwood films I’d missed first time around possibly because I supposed it was about hunting, a subject I have no interest in. I’m glad this quest drew me too it, as although it is about hunting hardly a shot is fired and the recreation of the classic ‘African Queen‘ was first rate. Give it a go; it certainly hits the target. Oh dear.

Best Bit : The monkey stealing the script was a hoot.

‘W’ Score : 20/23

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