Out of Africa

Directed By: Sydney Pollack

Starring: Meryl Streep, Robert Redford, and Klaus Maria Brandauer

Don't take too much stock in which film wins the Academy Award for Best Picture.  The Oscars are political, and the winners often reflect this rather than a more qualitative assessment of the films released each year.  Given this, the cinematic popularity contest often gets it wrong.  How else could you make the case that Slumdog Millionaire topped The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (and The Dark Knight for that matter) or that The Artist topped the likes of Moneyball, The Descendants, and Midnight in Paris?  It's the politics of the movie awards season.  With that in mind, let's take a step back to another film that didn't necessarily deserve the big award, Sydney Pollack's Out of Africa.

It's 1913.  Unmarried Danish woman Karen Dinesen (Meryl Streep) would like to put her vast sum of money to use.  With this in mind, she proposes a marriage of convenience to her friend Baron Bror Blixen (Klaus Maria Brandauer).  Since Bror is an aristocrat having some financial difficulties, he readily accepts the offer.  Once married, Karen and Bror will move to British East Africa to start a dairy farm.  After marrying Bror in a small ceremony and becoming the Baroness Blixen, Karen's life doesn't quite go as planned.  As it turns out, Bror uses her money to start a coffee plantation, a much tougher and less profitable endeavor than Karen intended.

As their marriage unfolds, one thing is clear to Karen.  Bror is never home.  Aspiring to be a big game hunter, he neglects his duties as a husband and head of household.  His marriage of convenience never becomes anything more than a marriage of convenience.  Though she has developed feelings for Bror and can see their relationship potentially turning into something more, Karen must invest her energies in doing what Bror will not, namely running the farm.  With this in mind, Karen takes the time to get to know the locals as well as the colonials in the region.  One in particular catches the eye of this lonely wife.  While Bror chases his dream of being a big game hunter, Karen begins spending her time with successful hunter Denys Finch Hatton (Robert Redford).

With an acclaimed director, two of the world's most prolific actors, and beloved source material, Out of Africa has just about every piece of an Oscar-winning formula.  There's just one that it's missing, an interesting story.  Still, it somehow boasts an Oscar win for Best Picture over great films like Kiss of the Spider Woman, The Color Purple, and Prizzi's HonorOut of Africa offers glorious visuals from Sydney Pollack, a graceful score by composer John Barry, and excellent acting by Streep, Redford, and Brandauer.  As a fan of all involved, however, it pains me to say that Out of Africa is one long, boring affair.

The film is really about Baroness Blixen's values clash with the men in her life.  While both Bror and Denys are wild and free, Karen is guarded and cultured.  That's why both relationships hit some rocky terrain throughout the course of the movie.  For her part as the Baroness, Meryl Streep gives a tough yet sensual performance.  Though frequently conflicted throughout the film, Streep's Karen is a values-driven woman who will do what she must to survive.  A master of accents, Streep certainly convinces me that her character is of Danish descent in yet another great performance.  As Karen's husband Bror, Klaus Maria Brandauer offers a cold distant figure.  It takes a certain kind of actor to bring the menace to the bedroom as he does, and I must commend him for this.  As Karen's lover Denys Finch Hatton, Robert Redford just plays off his own persona and natural charms.  For this romantic period piece, that suffices.

I've said this before, and I'll say it again.  Great acting doesn't make a great movie.  There's more to a fine piece of cinema than that, and Out of Africa is missing those other pieces.  Clocking in just under three hours, Sydney Pollack's period romance doesn't have the cinematic sizzle to justify its length.  Despite the fact that it's technically impressive and offers some gorgeous visuals, the movie is simply uninteresting.  With all this in mind, Out of Africa gets a 0.09% rating.  Have some Cosmopolitans with this one.