Out of Africa (1985)

Director: Sydney Pollack
Screenwriter: Kurt Luedtke
Adapted from: Out of Africa and other writings by Isak Dinesen, Isak Dinesen: The Life of a Story Teller by Judith Thurman, Silence Will Speak by Errol Trzebinski
Cast: Meryl Streep, Robert Redford, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Michael Kitchen, Malick Bowens, Suzanna Hamilton, Michael Gough, Joseph Thiaka
Nominations: Picture, Director – Sydney Pollack, Actress – Meryl Streep, Supporting Actor – Klaus Maria Brandauer, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing, Art Direction, Costume Design, Score, Sound
Wins: Picture, Director – Sydney Pollack, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Art Direction, Score, Sound

If films were solely judged by the parts of its whole, Out of Africa might be considered one of the greatest films ever made.  The acting is superb, with Meryl Streep commanding our attention by capturing Karen Blixen’s Danish accent and grabbing onto our heartstrings with an emotionally powerful turn; the cinematography is stunning and breathtaking—every wide shot of the Kenyan landscape is glorious and rich; John Barry’s score is melancholic and tender; and Sydney Pollack’s direction is refrained and controlled, which is most appropriate for the leisurely pace of Kurt Luedtke’s screenplay—itself a feat of writing as it draws from more than three sources to create a cohesive narrative.

With all those pieces succeeding on such high calibers it’s a shame that they can’t come together to raise the entire film to the next level.  It’s far from Pollack’s best film—which is inarguably the masterful They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969)—and is not even be close to the best film of 1985, especially when up against the likes of the following:

  • Back to the Future (Robert Zemeckis)
  • Brazil (Terry Gilliam)
  • Clue (Jonathan Lynn)
  • The Official Story (Luis Puenzo)
  • Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (Tim Burton)
  • The Purple Rose of Cairo (Woody Allen)
  • Ran (Akira Kurosawa)
  • Vagabond (Agnes Varda)
  • When Father Was Away on Business (Emir Kusturica)

I wish I had an explanation for why the film falls flat.  It might be the slow pacing and predictability of the love story.  It might be that each craft is so distinct that it refuses to meld with the others.  It’s not a bad film, but it’s far from an entertaining and re-watchable one.