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White Hunter, Black Heart Review

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Fictionalised biopic of movie director Huston's filming trip to Africa, where he is revealed to be an obstinate obsessive far more interested in hunting than directing.

★★★★★

This misconceived portrait of legendary director John Huston at work and play during the filming of The African Queen fails as both art - the kind of movie Clint likes to produce and direct - and action.

Based on screenwriter Peter Viertel's novelised account of his relationship with the irrepressible Huston, this labour of love is, unfortunately, an unhappy mixture of comedy, action adventure and psychological biography. Idling along at a lackadaisical pace, White Hunter opens in post-war London as "Wilson" (Eastwood) and producer Paul Landers (George Dzundza as Sam Spiegel) haggle over the production details of their forthcoming trip to the Belgian Congo. Bogart, Hepburn and Bacall are played by mere mortals and kept mercifully in the background as Eastwood tries desperately to incarnate Huston's bluff mixture of braggadocio and existentialism by puffing nervously on a cigar and making Hemingwayesque speeches about the meaning of life.

When Huston and co. finally reach the Belgian Congo, Huston's masculinity goes into overdrive and his desire to shoot an elephant begins to get in the way of the film. Director Eastwood, meanwhile, apparently can't decide whether he's filming a tourist brochure like Out Of Africa or trying to unlock Huston's own brand of machismo. Ultimately, White Hunter is sunk by Eastwood's inability to do justice to a verbose legend like Huston and a script that is both overly literal and fundamentally lacking in drama.

Walking a fine line between being a masterpiece and a dogs dinner, this movie strays into the latter, though giving some historical illumination to the movie-making process as it was in the 1950s. A white elephant.