In climbing the Academy Award For Best Picture ladder over at Half Popped Reviews, I had reached the rung whereby Out Of Africa was standing in my way. Having seen each of the Best Picture winners dating all the way back to 1986, watching the biopic was high on my priority list. It’s said to be one of Meryl Streep’s best performances, so I got a copy and dove right in.
And by that, I mean I forced myself to stay focused even as the 160-minute runtime seemed to move at a snail’s pace.
I don’t always mind when a film takes a leisurely stroll through the plot. In fact, I watched such a movie two days before sitting through Out Of Africa, and I can tell you that I enjoyed my previous experience considerably more, and Victoria & Abdul wasn’t even nominated!
If you look up other reviews of the lauded 1985 biopic, you’ll find it getting praise for the performances and cinematography. Completely warranted, those aspects were great. How it won for Best Direction and Best Adapted Screenplay makes me want to add the other nominees to my list of movies to watch, because I had issues with both.
The narrative backbone of the film centers around Streep’s character, a wealthy woman who negotiates a marriage of convenience whereby she can become a Baroness in Nairobi, British East Africa, and her new husband gains access to her money to finance the farm he wishes to establish. As the realities of Africa and a loveless marriage become evident to her, the Baroness begins spending more time with Robert Redford’s character, a big-game hunter, while her husband is seemingly perpetually on travel.
With a runtime exceeding 2.5 hours, the film felt less as though its goal was to help us endure the emotional journey of its female protagonist, and simply decided to loosely string together several periods of her time in Africa. It takes several very key moments in her life and presents many of them with less gravity than they deserve, and very little in the way of effect on the remainder of the narrative.
The scenery is, at times, wonderful. Whether it’s a view of the landscape from afar, or a gaze across a field, or just a scene where two characters are sitting on the side of a hill, this is undoubtedly the best part of the film. At times, though, inexplicably the scenes aren’t lit well enough, or the vantage point was set too close to the subjects to fully appreciate what’s going on. The director also lets us down when he cuts away from scenes too soon and doesn’t let us experience the scene.
I won’t recommend against seeing Out Of Africa. It’s a good measuring stick against which to compare other films, but an all-time classic, it is not.
My Rating: 60 out of 100