I always feel the compulsive need to remind readers that there is a different between a bad movie and a movie that I don’t like. A prime example of this is my review of the English Patient. It took extreme talent to create the film and was very well done; I just didn’t enjoy watching it. The 1985 Oscar Best Picture winner Out of Africa is another example of a good film that I just did not like.
The film follows Karen Blixen (Meryl Streep), a Danish woman who is dealing with the death of her lover when the films opens. Forced into a marriage of convenience to Baron Bror von Blixen-Finecke (Claus Maria Brandauer), Karen moves to Africa, to a colony in what is now Kenya, to be married and live on a farm. What should have been a very profitable dairy farm quickly turns into a risk when Karen’s new husband decides to plant coffee instead opening a dairy farm. Struck with wanderlust, Bror spends all of his time on safari leaving Karen home to work on the farm, meet the natives and get to know Denys Finch Hatton (Robert Redford), a war veteran. As Karen is left alone more and more, she gets more involved with members of a neighboring tribe (helping as much as she can), her farm (annoying the man who actually runs it) and Denys. The film focuses on Karen’s life on the farm as she deals with person tragedy, interacting with the natives and a budding relationship with Denys.
Shot on location, nearly every shot and frame of this film is a work of art. Peppered with shots of natural wildlife, the beauty hits its peak during a biplane safari, showing sweeping shots of the wilderness from the plane. Mixed in with this beautifully shot film is the uncommon love story that exists between Karen and Denys. Meeting at odd times and in odd places, the two slowly grow to know and love each other. While the slow moving, fictional biopic film did not grab my interest it is almost impossible not to be enthralled by Meryl Streep and Robert Redford whenever they are on screen. The film features two charming leads but also dances through and touches a number of issues including social classes, racism and gender roles.
Out of Africa received seven Oscars out of its eleven nominations, beating Kiss of the Spider Woman, Prizzi’s Honor, Witness and surprisingly (for me at least) the Color Purple for Best Picture. The beauty of and artistic skill that went into shooting the film was recognized as David Watkin won for Best Cinematography. Sydney Pollack, the film’s director, won Best Direction and the film also earned writer Kurt Luedtke an Oscar for Best writing. Its other three wins were in Best Music, done by John Barry, Best Art Direction-Set Direction and Best Sound. I found the film’s plot and story to be somewhat dry but the two lead actors as well as the stunning set worked to hold my attention throughout the two hour movie. I give this film a 7 out of 10, another film that I appreciate immensely but can’t really say that I like.
“They call me Mister Tibbs”- Virgil Tibbs
In 1967, the bold and racially charged film In the Heat of the Night won the Oscar for Best picture. When all the meaning is stripped away from the film, In the Heat of the Night is a fast moving, well written murder mystery but the film is much more than just that. Pairing a Southern white police chief with an African American homicide detective from the North, the film takes an in depth look at racism as the title characters attempt to survive and solve a murder.
The film begins in Sparta, Mississippi with the discovery of the body of Mr. Colbert, a prominent business man who moved there to open a factory. Immediately the pressure is put on Police Chief Bill Gillespie (Rod Steiger) to solve the somewhat high profile murder. Meanwhile, the racist attitude of Sparta is exemplified early in the film as African American Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier) is arrested while waiting for a bus simply because he has a large amount of money in his pocket. Arresting officer Sam Wood (Warren Oates) is embarrassed to find out he arrested Philadelphia’s number one homicide detective. Reluctant to help the racist police chief, Tibbs is convinced to stay in Sparta and help when asked by the victim’s wife.
Forced to work together, Tibbs and Gillespie try to get along but it is difficult for Tibbs to trust the racist Gillespie and for Gillespie to believe in Tibbs. Their first and prime suspect is the wealthy plantation owner Eric Endicott (Larry Gates). During an interrogation, Tibbs manages to turn the entire town against him with a single slap, striking Endicott after Endicott slapped him. With Endicott seeing Tibbs as an enemy, Gillespie and Tibbs must solve the murder while dealing with relentless physical attacks from the racist inhabitants of Sparta.
Every portion of this film, from dialogue to directing, worked to make a number of strong statements about racism. Sometimes it was as simple as the use of a single word: boy. Gillespie was the main character that used the word the most. Originally it was what he called Tibbs as a racial slur but as the film went on and Gillespie came to respect Tibbs, he began calling his own men boy. The camera is also used to show the power struggle between Tibbs and the rest of the town. The first shift in power is shown when Tibbs examines the victim’s body. The camera stays tight on Tibbs’ hands throughout the scene, showing a close up of the African American hands examining the Caucasian body. From that point on the camera follows the shift in power as Gillespie begins to respect Tibbs.
By taking what is a first a very racist character, Gillespie, and pairing him with a brilliant African American homicide detective, In the Heat of a Night makes strong and sweeping statements about racism. A brilliantly put together film, In the Heat of the Night beat out Doctor Dolittle, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and heavy hitters the Graduate and Bonnie and Clyde for Best Picture. Stirling Silliphant won Best Writing for the film and Rod Steiger received a well deserved Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Gillespie. Every aspect of this film was brilliant, working together to create a thrilling crime drama as well as a scathing expose on the truths of racism. This is a 9 out of 10 film for me, a classic that should be seen by all.