1985 / Best Actress / Best Director / Best Picture / Best Supporting Actor

Film #314: Out of Africa (1985)

After witnessing Newman’s final appearance in a Best Picture nominee we do the same now with Robert Redford. Redford’s last appearance on the blog was actually in another Best Picture winner this time in the form of costume drama Out of Africa. But, while Redford’s name was featured first on the credits list, he barely appears at all in the film’s opening hour.

Instead we follow the exploits of Karen Blixen, a Danish lady who early on marries her friend Baron Blixen and takes him to her family’s farm in what is now Kenya. Once in Africa, Karen is introduced to Redford’s big game hunter Denys through a mutual friend Berkeley Cole. As the philandering Blixen often leaves Karen to her own devices she starts to entertain both Berkeley and Denys. The First World War changes things in Africa, with Karen forced to move out of her farm and she later returns to Denmark after contracting a fairly serious disease. The second half of the film charts the course of the relationship between Karen and Denys as she moves him into her house and the two begin a courtship of sorts. But any opportunity to make their relationship into a more permanent arrangement is thwarted by Denys’ lack of commitment and his insistence to live like a wild animal. Denys would rather fly his plane around then enter a serious conversation about marriage and Karen finally realises that their romance is doomed. Following a number of other tragedies, Karen prepares to leave Africa and hopes to reunite with Denys on more time before journeying to Denmark.

I feel that director Sydney Pollack really brought Karen’s story to life due to the dazzling cinematography which perfectly captured the Kenyan scenery. The scenes that really stuck in my head were the set pieces involving Karen’s first arrival into Africa and her first trip in the plane with Denys. The sweeping shots of the African countryside are perfectly accompanied by John Barry’s majestic score. However, despite its visual grandeur, Out of Africa was beset by many problems, the first being its length. Clocking in at over two and half hours, the film had a meandering narrative that felt like it was trying to stick too much to the original source materials. In fact every detail of Karen’s life was included in the film and I did feel as if Pollack could have edited Out of Africa down to about two hours. Though she is given some gorgeous costumes to wear, I never really believed in Meryl Streep’s Oscar-nominated performance as Karen. As well as a wavering accent, she never really made me care about Karen’s struggles and so I wasn’t that disappointed when things didn’t go her way. At times it appeared as if Redford was in a different movie to Streep as his performance of Denys almost felt like he was channelling an India Jones-esque hero. Though Redford and Streep did have some chemistry, it was still a stretch to believe in their on-screen romance which was the basis of the film’s second half. To me the best performances came from the supporting cast namely Michael Kitchen as Berkeley and Klaus Maria Brandauer as Baron Blixen. Despite some stunning visuals, Out of Africa to me felt too over-indulgent and long-winded to be a really good film. Due to its important message and exotic locations, I can understand why it won Best Picture but I have a sneaking suspicion that there were better released that year that deserved it more.


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