A 600 mile railway link is being built from Lake Victoria to the port of Mombasa so that the British Empire may secure the lion's share of East African trade. However, two real lions go on a killing rampage, preventing the construction of the bridge. The archetect of the bridge (kilmer) and a lion-killer (Douglas) attempt to save the project from the lion's jaws.
- Engineer and Irish army officer Lt. Col. John Patterson is commissioned to build the bridge that will complete a 600 mile railway link from Lake Victoria to the port of Mombasa so that the British Empire may secure the lion's share of East African trade (chiefly ivory). Two lions, however, have other ideas. In and around the railroad workcamp over the Tsavo River where Patterson goes to build his bridge, they develop a taste for human flesh, ultimately killing over 130 people in a matter of months. Their behaviour is so extraordinary that the locals name the animals The Ghost and The Darkness and believe them to be malevolent spirits, not real lions.
Patterson (Kilmer) fulfils one lifetime ambition by visiting the Dark Continent but never makes his second (to be home in time to see the birth of his first son) because he has to turn hunter when the bridge-building grinds to a halt as the two serial killer lions chow down on his terrified workforce. Patterson's failure prompts the railway to hire great white hunter Remington (Douglas) but the lions outwit him, too, and so the pair team up as the body count rises but the bridge doesn't.
This amazing story is true, the cinematic potential quite unique, the opportunity to make the movie event of the decade very real. Sadly, this falls short on almost every level. Kilmer just doesn't cut it as a man with a 1990s haircut and an Irish accent even worse than Emily Lloyd's in When Saturday Comes. Douglas is better but spoils it by keeping his own accent and hamming it up as a kind of renegade General Custer.
The supporting cast is far more credible: Hill is excellent as the doctor who loses patients not to disease but the feline body-snatchers; Tom Wilkinson is a fearsome bastard of a railway boss; and John Kani is majestic as Patterson's bushman guide. But all of these characters are seemingly sacrificed to give screen time to Kilmer and set-pieces that rely on tension and a little bit of gore, rather than invention and a whole lot more. Worse, we have all seen too many big cat TV documentaries to accept seeing the real lions this infrequently and the CGI ones so obviously.
This should have been Jaws meets Alien meets Out Of Africa. But instead ends up being a far more tepid version of all three. Hopkins may have felt at home with Predator 2 or Judgment Night but seems out of his depth here. The story is only sketched when it begs to have been painted with bold brush strokes and although he is good on suspense, this is no substitute for real terror. You will jump out of your seat then wince at every kill, but you won't leave the cinema thinking you've seen a classic. Which is a crying shame.
You will jump out of your seat then wince at every kill, but you won't leave the cinema thinking you've seen a classic. Which is a crying shame.