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Out of Africa (1985)

tomatometer

52

Average Rating: 6.2/10
Reviews Counted: 42
Fresh: 22 | Rotten: 20

Though lensed with stunning cinematography and featuring a pair of winning performances from Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, Out of Africa suffers from excessive length and glacial pacing.

50

Average Rating: 6.2/10
Critic Reviews: 10
Fresh: 5 | Rotten: 5

Though lensed with stunning cinematography and featuring a pair of winning performances from Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, Out of Africa suffers from excessive length and glacial pacing.

audience

84

liked it
Average Rating: 3.7/5
User Ratings: 39,473

My Rating

Movie Info

Out of Africa is drawn from the life and writings of Danish author Isak Dinesen, who during the time that the film's events occured was known by her married name, Karen Blixen-Flecke. For convenience's sake, Karen (Meryl Streep) has married Baron Bor Blixen-Flecke (Klaus Maria Brandauer). In 1914, the Baron moves himself and his wife to a plantation in Nairobi, then leaves Karen to her own devices as he returns to his womanizing and drinking. Soon, Karen has fallen in love with charming white

PG,

Drama, Romance

Kurt Luedtke

Jan 29, 2002

Universal Pictures

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All Critics (42) | Top Critics (10) | Fresh (22) | Rotten (20) | DVD (16)

The relationship of Karen and Denys is a prickly and, despite the era in which it is set, curiously modern one. It's also at the heart of this understated movie.

January 6, 2014 Full Review Source: Orlando Sentinel
Orlando Sentinel
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Streep may convince us utterly that she is in love with Africa, but our views of it are a little too stately to really feel the place.

January 6, 2014 Full Review Source: Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

My basic problem with this otherwise sumptuous and well-acted film is that I never was able to accept Redford in character.

January 6, 2014 Full Review Source: Chicago Tribune
Chicago Tribune
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Out of Africa is, at last, the free-spirited, fullhearted gesture that everyone has been waiting for the movies to make all decade long. It reclaims the emotional territory that is rightfully theirs.

February 20, 2009 Full Review Source: TIME Magazine
TIME Magazine
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Maybe the problem of the pacing is simply the nature of the beast these days with expensive period pieces. Once the difficult details are all in place, it may be too much to expect a director to resist milking every scene for more than it's worth.

January 28, 2008 Full Review Source: Variety
Variety
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Sydney Pollack applies craftsmanship and restraint to a classic plot curve of longing, fulfillment, and loss, and although the denouement is a bit overextended, he never yields to facile, insistent sentimentality -- his effects are honestly won.

February 5, 2007 Full Review Source: Chicago Reader | Comment (1)
Chicago Reader
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Luedtke and Pollack bought these high-priced literary sources only to chuck them for a conventional, largely fictionalized movie romance.

January 6, 2014 Full Review Source: People Magazine
People Magazine

What the movie loses in emotional realism, it gains in sheer epic audacity.

January 6, 2014 Full Review Source: Radio Times
Radio Times

Out of Africa is a splendid example of that persistent genre, the coffeetable movie. It's big, beautiful, and imposing. But there isn't much to it, and pretty pictures -- replacing ideas, not supporting them -- are its only real attraction.

January 6, 2014 Full Review Source: Christian Science Monitor
Christian Science Monitor

Out of Africa has the sheen of artsiness and the gloss of two big-name actors. Unfortunately, that`s not quite enough in the absence of a story with vigor and passion.

January 6, 2014 Full Review Source: South Florida Sun-Sentinel
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Despite its technical assurance and some strong performances, this is a film that favours spectacular landscapes over emotional depth.

February 15, 2013 Full Review Source: Total Film
Total Film

Not even the meticulous Meryl can breathe life into a movie that never really gets started, and takes almost an hour to end.

September 3, 2012 Full Review Source: Quickflix
Quickflix

Fantastic acting or not... seven Oscars or not... I was bored. And I can't get past that.

July 30, 2012 Full Review Source: 7M Pictures
7M Pictures

Nominated for 11 Academy Awards, this earned seven, including Best Picture and Best Director ... but no Best Actress, alas.

May 28, 2008 Full Review Source: Creative Loafing
Creative Loafing

Dull biopic of the strong-willed Danish writer Isak Dinesen.

March 25, 2008 Full Review Source: Ozus' World Movie Reviews
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

The film is so preened and self-satisfied.

February 20, 2008 Full Review Source: Empire Magazine
Empire Magazine

The film runs for 161 minutes and does not have a strongly defined narrative.

January 28, 2008

As the Academy found before awarding it seven Oscars, it is easy to be seduced by the lush cinematography and Barry's score. More difficult to tolerate is the slushy love story between Streep and Redford.

January 28, 2008 Full Review Source: Film4 | Comments (2)
Film4

The movie is not drama and far from a compelling romance. Needless to say, the prestige and technical polish on display here were enough to win this flick a passel of Oscars.

January 28, 2008 Full Review Source: TV Guide's Movie Guide
TV Guide's Movie Guide

Despite a long-winded approach to moviemaking, Out of Africa is a sumptuous romantic epic with a wonderful lead performance from Meryl Streep.

December 27, 2006
Cinema Sight

Audience Reviews for Out of Africa

Incredible in so many ways. Full review later.
October 3, 2011
TomBowler
Thomas Bowler

Super Reviewer

The Academy certainly loves the Prestige Picture, don't they? This film filled that niche in 1985, and it was decided that this was the film that should take home the big awards that night. Some of them are deserved, don't get me wrong, but I think this film is just really good, and not a classic.

Like many prestige pictures, it's a sweeping romantic historical epic based on actual events and various published sources. It's a lengthy movie too, which makes me wonder if all prestige pictures have to be pushing 3 hours if not longer. Thankfully that's not a requirement to win Best Picture, though many of those winners do have some long running times, sometimes unnecessarily so.

This particular film, despite being a lengthy romantic historical epic is one I found myself enjoying more than I sometimes tend to with these sorts of things. It is the stroy of a Danish Baroness who, from 1914-1931 ran a coffee plantation with her philandering husband in Kenya. While there, she broke out of her shell, falling in love with both the land and a big game hunter who really showed her how to live.

It's a good story, but this movie is really just a rather simple romantic melodrama that seems really special because of the wodnerful costumes, art direction, set design, landscapes, music, and cinematography. Oh yeah, and the terrific performances. If it weren't for these things, this film wouldn't be all that great. For what it is though, it is enjoyable.

Meryl Streep is fantastic as always, adding another well done accent to her resume. Robert Redford is also really good, though, curiously enough, he plays a Brit who speaks with an American accent... Apparently Redford wanted to use a Brit. accent and even filmed some stuff using it, but Sydney Pollack decided that an All-American like Redford speaking with a British accent might confuse people so he had him not use it. Hmm, that's an odd decision, and not a good one either. Michael Kitchen and Klaus Maria Brandauer also give good performances, though this is mainly the Streep and Redford show. The actors playing the Africans with more substantial roles are also not bad.

Many films involving Europeans in exotic places tend to carry a certain bias in their portrayal of the foreign land and people. This film is no exception, but thankfully it doesn't come off quite as pandering and typical as it could have.

Here's the thing: this movie has some interesting characters and situations, but those are least least interesting parts of the movie, even though they are supposed to be. What really had me was the cinematogrpahy and the John Barry's score, even though I could detect some shades of his later score for Dances With Wolves. The film tries to put things into a historical context, but I felt they could have done more with it, and had the filmfocus less on the character romance, and more on some sort fo specific plot. I mean hell, it's set in Africa from 1914-1931. There's all sorts of great material there for a truly wonderful film.

Okay, enough of that. I did like this movie, but I don't think it's truly that special. Yes, some of it is impressive, but it mostly just plays it safe and follows formula. Sometimes, that's okay, but I was really expecting more. However, I liked it enough to give it the rating I've given it, so there.
September 24, 2011
cosmo313
Chris Weber

Super Reviewer

I saw this again today -- mind you for the first time since joining Flixster. It is a good movie. Keeps you interested, good story, good acting, good scenery. Interesting that it is based on a true story.

This movie features a strong-willed woman who makes the decisions in a frontier land at a time when most women seemed to be nothing but fluff.
June 12, 2010
Redlats

Super Reviewer

Hollywood is a sucker for romantic epics. Long after the genre reached its peak, studios have made quick money by putting two big stars together and leaving them in the middle of nowhere. In the aftermath of Heaven's Gate, you would have thought that filmmakers had learnt their lesson; they would have realised that scale is not a substitute for story, and would have concentrated on creating something more intimate and involving. But while Out of Africa is nowhere near as bad as Heaven's Gate, so much of it will try the patience of those who like their dramas taut.

There is no denying Out of Africa looks good. David Watkin has form as a cinematographer, having shot both The Devils and Chariots of Fire, and he offers up a good range of work, from solid wide shots of the Kenyan plains to ornate interiors which have a still life quality to them. The score is pretty good as well -- John Barry, who composed the James Bond theme, also has experience with epics, having scored the likes of Zulu and The Lion in Winter. He blends his own compositions with the recordings of Mozart to make certain moments swell to just the right degree.

Beyond that, Out of Africa is neither more nor less than baggy nonsense. Its first and biggest problem, like so many epics, is its length. In the words of Mark Kermode, "length is not a measure of depth": so often the films which go on the longest actually have the least to day. At 160 minutes, Out of Africa is not interminable -- it's shorter than all three Lord of the Rings and way, way shorter than Heaven's Gate. But considering the film's message and the limited extent of character development, it could have been an hour shorter and still got all its ideas across.

There is an argument with historical epics for keeping the pace slow, to capture how it would feel to live in a world before high-speed broadband and 200mph supercars. The most successful film to do this is Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon, which captures the painterly, stately quality of the 18th century and deliberately takes its time so that we as an audience are forced to slow down and come into the past.

But despite his best efforts, Pollock is no Kubrick, and Out of Africa is not so much painterly as ponderous. It feels like the same encounters and character developments are being repeated, literally ad nauseum, and you never get the sense of the film wanting to move forward. It's like being led across Africa by a guide who constantly wants to stop and admire the view: it's pretty, but you never really go anywhere.

Lord Attenborough once remarked that E.T. was a better film than Gandhi, since the latter was "a piece of narration, rather than a piece of cinema". For all its strengths, Gandhi relies on some kind of foreknowledge of the character and the history to achieve a complete emotional impact. Out of Africa falls into the same trap: it looks good, and has a couple of decent performances (including Leslie Phillips on his very best behaviour), but ultimately it isn't very 'dramatic', or indeed 'romantic'. Meryl Streep's sporadic narration virtually carries the film, and at points is the only semblance of narrative we have. Every time it attempts to build up something important, it cuts to something loud and fleeting like a firework display or a chariot race. As much as Pollock admires David Lean, he does not have the gumption to direct like him.

Much like Pollock's later film The Interpreter, Out of Africa is strangely coy about the nitty-gritty of its politics, being content to offer up brief suggestions of where it stands but shying away from giving further comment. It keeps dodging any given opportunity to explore themes deeper than its central story, for instance the role of women in Africa. Early on in the film Karen Blixen is forced to leave a bar which only serves men -- a matter which isn't raised again until she is kneeling before Sir Joseph. The matter seems to be resolved when the men invite her for a whisky before she leaves, but resolved to what end? The film makes no attempt outside of these brief scenes to look at the role of women in white African society, a wasted opportunity made worse by the casting of Streep who revels in playing strong-willed women.

The same goes for the border war the white men are fighting, which is only hinted at on a couple of occasions. The sub-plot about Blixen contracting syphilis seems completely pointless, since it is dismissed within the space of 20 minutes. It is treated so flippantly and so unnecessary to the character that any editor worth their salt would have taken it out. The central point is that epics have to take account of their surroundings: it may be centrally a love story, but love stories never happen in isolation.

This brings us on to the romantic relationship at the heart of Out of Africa. All hopes of this being half-decent are scuppered by the below-par central performances. Streep is capable of great work -- think of Sophie's Choice, Ironweed or Kramer vs. Kramer -- but here she is really, really annoying. Part of this is her failed attempt at the Danish accent, which starts off promising but eventually becomes laughable as it wanders in and out of Dutch. But mostly it is because her character is so completely unlovable. She may be strong-willed, but she is also preening, selfish, distant and haughty. In the first hour especially, she makes lots of melodramatic turns away from the camera, and there is no great fall from grace which give her a sense of humility.

Robert Redford is not much better, though for entirely different reasons. Having oozed roguish charm in both Butch Cassidy and The Sting, here he feels lost and confused, a situation not helped by a script which keeps its characters' lips at arm's length for nearly two hours. Until then he wanders in and out of the story as he sees fit, always turning up when Streep needs him before prompting disappearing. The relationship has so little chemistry that you end up wishing one of them would be mauled by a lion or accidentally shot by the other: neither would make much sense, but both would at least be more exciting.

Out of Africa is a turgid and ponderous film, and one of the least-deserving winners of the Best Picture Oscar. Within its wide-angle landscapes and sweeping score there is a better, tighter, more thought-provoking story; and it may well be that the original stories are insightful and compelling. But the film is neither of these, squandering the best (and worst) efforts of its actors and ending up with something very boring indeed. It has none of the awe-factor of Doctor Zhivago, very little of Gandhi's intelligence, and precious little of the romantic tension of The Colour Purple (which though very flawed is the better film). Streep fans may leap to its defence, but it's a cold experience for those of us who aren't so easily seduced.
May 18, 2010
Daniel Mumby
Daniel Mumby

Super Reviewer

    1. Denys Finch Hatton: I don't want to live someone else's idea of how to live. Don't ask me to do that. I don't want to find out one day that I'm at the end of someone else's life.
    – Submitted by Sonya T (41 days ago)
    1. Denys Finch Hatton: I don't want to find out one day that I'm at the end of someone else's life.
    – Submitted by Sonya T (52 days ago)
    1. Denys Finch Hatton: And what is it exactly that's yours? We're not owners here Karen, we're just passing through.
    – Submitted by Sonya T (52 days ago)
    1. Denys Finch Hatton: I don't want to find out one day that I'm at the end of someone else's life.
    – Submitted by Sonya T (52 days ago)
    1. Karen Blixen-Finecke: It's an odd feeling - farewell, there is some envy in it.
    – Submitted by Sonya T (52 days ago)
    1. Denys Finch Hatton: And what is it exactly that's yours? We're not owners here Karen, we're just passing through.
    – Submitted by Sonya T (52 days ago)
View all quotes (10)

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Latest News on Out of Africa

May 26, 2008:
Sydney Pollack dies aged 73
Academy Award-winning director, producer and actor, Sydney Pollack, dies aged 73.

Foreign Titles

  • Jenseits von Afrika (DE)
  • Out of Africa - Souvenirs d'Afrique (FR)
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