Monday, 27 June 2011

White Hunter Black Heart

Lowdown: A film director cares for nothing other than shooting an elephant.
As far as Clint Eastwood films are concerned, in particular films Eastwood directed himself, 1990’s White Hunter Black Heart (WHBH) qualified as a likely candidate to the title of “best Eastwood film I’ve never seen”. Channel 9’s ongoing airing of Eastwood films (there must have been a wholesale at Warner) remedied the situation this week.
As I sat to watch WHBH I could immediately register why I have never seen it before. The film is rather weird; not only weird, it’s eccentric. Essentially, we follow a film director (Eastwood) as he and his crew embark to Africa to shoot a safari adventure. Throughout the film the only thing that happens and the only thing that matters is the director’s detached behavior while he cares for absolutely nothing but shooting the biggest tusked elephant he can find (with the help of helpful locals). He doesn’t care for people and neither does he care about his career.
That is really all there is to the film’s plot.
There is more to the film. though. It is dead obvious that Eastwood’s character is based on that of real life director John Huston and that the film being shot in the WHBH is 1951’s The African Queen, starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn (whose look-alikes take minor part in WHBH).
As can almost be expected for a film dealing with the obsession of an eccentric character, WHBH suffers from eccentricities of its own. Most notable is Eastwood’s acting, which is quite different to what we’re used to seeing from him. It doesn’t work for quite a while; it’s even annoying. Only at the very end of the film could I feel things finally coming together and Eastwood truly shining.
There are also plenty of themes explored in WHBH, such as racism, cruelty to animals and conservation. None, however, gets to be treated in a particularly satisfying manner, and the feeling of neither here nor there dominates the shaky viewing experience. An experience made even more shaky by the supporting characters, none of which feel too real and almost all (with the exception of a Jeff Fahey playing the scriptwriter) coming out almost as caricatures.
Best scene: The final elephant showdown. As mentioned above, that was Eastwood only true moment of shining in the film, and he did it in a manner that very much reminded me of the way he did the same a few years later for A Perfect World.
Overall: Worth watching for the Eastwood factor, but still a semi detached piece of cinema. 2.5 out of 5 stars.

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