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OBPC #58: Out of Africa, 1985

January 7, 2014

Rating:  3 stars (out of 4)

Out of Africa (1985): Dir. Sydney Pollack.  Written by: Kurt Luedtke.  Based upon writings by Karen Blixen, Judith Thurman, and Errol Trzebinski.  Starring: Meryl Streep, Robert Redford, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Michael Kitchen, and Malick Bowens.  Rated PG for some violence and sexual themes.  Running time: 161 minutes.

outofafricaCertainly no stranger to Academy, the sweeping historical romance returned in rare form in 1985.  Out of Africa was a long gestating project that was tapped at one point by Orson Welles.  Here the directing talents of Sydey Pollack were greatly aided by the acting talents of one Meryl Streep.

Set in early twentieth century colonial Kenya, Pollack’s film covers Karen’s life as she marries a Swedish nobleman and forges a new life for herself.  Karen proves herself to be ambitious, beginning a school and managing a coffee farm.  But soon she finds herself falling for Robert Redford’s big game hunter Denys.

With Streep’s superb performance and Pollack’s brisk pacing, the film never gets bogged down in its ambitions.  The film focuses on Karen and so remains grounded—it’s remarkable how Streep can disappear into the role (as she often does) of a stubbornly fierce Danish aristocrat.  True, some supporting performances are lost along the way, but we see some impressive turns from Redford and especially Klaus Maria Brandauer as Karen’s philandering husband.

Like many of the good epics on this countdown, Africa gets both the sweeping cinematography and intimate moments right.  Pollack understands when to hit us with breathtaking scenery and when to move us with simple moments.  Karen’s romance with Denys doesn’t interrupt the story but enhances it, as Karen slowly overcomes her ideas of propriety and ownership.  fact, the film goes out of its way to criticize the white colonists for their futility in the region (the common trope of a “foreign savior” finally dispelled).

Even if the film occasionally resorts to clunky exposition, it has enough nuance to make up its flaws.  Really, Streep is all I need to recommend this film, but I was pleasantly surprised at how much more it had to offer.

Next film: Platoon, 1986

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