Monday, June 1, 2015

Short Attention Span Review: White Hunter, Black Heart (1990)

When people talk about Clint Eastwood's astounding filmography, one title that is often overlooked is a project that was very near and dear to him, White Hunter, Black Heart.  This unique effort is a thinly veiled take on legendary director John Huston and the making of The African Queen.  Eastwood plays John Wilson, a maverick filmmaker and a larger-than-life figure who plays by his own rules.  The fact that he does so in a profession that requires a considerable amount of teamwork presents numerous clashes and complications, and things only grow more difficult when this cranky director becomes obsessed with killing an elephant while on location in Africa.  The early stages of White Hunter, Black Heart make it clear that the picture Wilson is set to direct is critical to his financial well-being, yet this stubborn and thoroughly entertaining rebel never prioritizes it over anything else that catches his fancy, to include women, fisticuffs, incessant verbal sparring with his producer, and hunting.  It's the hunting that presents the most problems for the making of the movie within the movie, as Wilson's obsession is maddening to even those who understand him the most.  In one of the film's most revealing moments, it becomes clear that Wilson himself is a bit disturbed and confused by his intense desire to kill an elephant.  While Eastwood is front and center throughout, looking and sounding completely different than we've come to expect, Jeff Fahey is also on hand to balance things out as the only person involved in the production who seems to genuinely like or understand the crazed director.  Yet even he is pushed to the brink as Wilson becomes more and more desperate to bag his trophy and the production of the film becomes more and more volatile as a result.  Fahey's character, Pete Verrill, is based on Peter Viertel, who wrote the first-hand account of the making of The African Queen that this picture is based on.  An able performer who I'm exceptionally fond of, Fahey's performance here will surely lead audiences to wonder why he was seldom offered roles of this stature in major studio efforts.  In the end, this unruly and quixotic movie belongs to Eastwood, who also served as director, and I think it stands as one of his most engaging and challenging offerings.  It is a meditation on passion, madness, individuality, and filmmaking, and it raises many potent questions on its way to a fascinating conclusion.

Final Grade: B+
Clint Eastwood is a man obsessed in White Hunter, Black Heart.

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