Monday, May 4, 2009

Film Review: WHITE HUNTER, BLACK HEART (1990, Clint Eastwood)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 112 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Clint Eastwood, Jeff Fahey (BODY PARTS, TV's LOST).
Tag-lines: "An adventure in obsession... "
Best one-liner: "Wake me up if we crash into the mountain. I wouldn't want to miss that."

Overshadowed by the subsequent acclaim of UNFORGIVEN, WHITE HUNTER, BLACK HEART remains somewhat forgotten, but the film, for me, is cleary Clint's masterpiece. And it's as much "about" Clint (and his iconic tough guy status) as it is about John Huston. Clint is the Huston stand-in here (as "Wilson"), and the film loosely chronicles the making of THE AFRICAN QUEEN, when Huston collaborated with writer Pete Viertel (here, "Verril"), who also wrote WHITE HUNTER, BLACK HEART.

It tackles some of the most difficult questions which all filmmakers, writers, and artists have, at one time or another, been forced to confront: How does one come to terms with the desire to live out one's own stories? How does one reconcile the multiple, fractured personae that grow out of this eternal, internal debate of thought vs. action? A lot of the greatest American filmmakers of the era (Huston, Fuller, Peckinpah, etc.) seemed to be chasing (and sometimes successfully, for what it's worth) that elusive macho persona.

For 'Wilson,' however, the mouthing-off, the barfights, the drinking, the womanizing- it's never enough. He seeks adventures and experiences that raise the stakes exponentially, until it's putting lives at risk and coming face to tusk with the most powerful, unpredictable creatures on the planet. He becomes something of a pure force of Id, with 'Verril' (played exceptionally by Jeff Fahey) acting as his Ego, his conscience, and the only voice of reason amid the chaos.

The film's not entirely a somber rumination, however- it has visceral action, witty exchanges, and thrilling visuals. It's highly enjoyable. But when it all comes down to it, the film's impact is something akin to long night of excess and libation- the exhilaration of endless possibility and unlimited hubris is taken down a notch by the punch in the guts of the morning after. Something lost, something gained. Five stars.

-Sean Gill

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