Out of Africa (1985)

(On Cable TV, March 2017) A big-budget dramatic romance set in Africa, featuring two megastars and a credible historical recreation without the tiniest bit of genre elements? No, they don’t make them like this anymore. Out of Africa is more than thirty years old and it often feels even older, what with its languid pacing, lush location shooting, and its young-looking Meryl Streep and Robert Redford. Director Sydney Pollack clearly understand the film he’s trying to make, and the African locations are impressive in their own right. Streep is terrific in an Oscar-winning performance, Redford tempers his natural charm with a not-entirely admirable character and the complex story is a cut above the formulaic notion of “romance” that has dominated the genre over the past decades. (It helps that it adapted from a book.) While I’m not sure it’s possible to be enthusiastic about Out of Africa nowadays, it’s not that hard to understand why it swept the Academy Awards that year: This is big-budget respectable filmmaking in the classical mould. A modern version would be about 20 minutes shorter, but then again a modern version would be rewritten (for better or worse) by Nicholas Spark, make extensive use of CGI, probably feature a biplane/car chase and co-star Vanessa Hudgens and Channing Tatum (again, for better or worse). Perhaps it’s best if they don’t make them like this anymore.

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