White Hunter Black Heart (1990)

TOMATOMETER

AUDIENCE SCORE

Critic Consensus: White Hunter Black Heart is powerful, intelligent, and subtly moving, a fascinating meditation on masculinity and the insecurities of artists.


Movie Info

Clint Eastwood's White Hunter, Black Heart is adapted from Peter Vietel's fictionalized tale of John Huston's filming of The African Queen. Eastwood's character, John Wilson, is a movie director who is obsessed with hunting a bull elephant while he's filming on location in Africa. Wilson is accompanied by an old friend named Pete Verrill (Jeff Fahey), whom the director brought in to help write the film he is shooting, but it becomes increasingly obvious to both Verrill and the audience that … More

Rating: PG
Genre: Drama, Action & Adventure
Directed By:
Written By: Burt Kennedy, James Bridges, Peter Viertel
In Theaters:
On DVD: Sep 2, 2003
Runtime:
Warner Bros. Pictures

Cast


as John Wilson

as Pete Verrill

as Paul Landers

as Ralph Lockhart

as Miss Wilding

as Butler George

as Basil Fields

as Gun Shop Salesman

as Irene Saunders

as Kay Gibson

as Phil Duncan

as Mrs. Duncan

as Scarf Girl

as Bongo Man

as Alec Laing

as Mrs. MacGregor

as Dickie Marlowe

as Desk Clerk

as Hodkins

as Zibelinsky

as Dorshka

as Photographer

as Photographer

as Riding Double
Show More Cast

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Critic Reviews for White Hunter Black Heart

All Critics (33) | Top Critics (10)

Eastwood's subject is wasted lives and wasted talent; Wilson's charisma and Hollywood's money prove irresistible, and their sheer power brings noteworthy results-but they emerge from a needless vortex of ruin.

Full Review… | December 29, 2014
New Yorker
Top Critic

Especially for those who have pegged Clint Eastwood too quickly as a masculine traditionalist, White Hunter, Black Heart is a movie to conjure with.

Full Review… | October 27, 2008
TIME Magazine
Top Critic

An intelligent, affectionate study of an obsessive American film director...

Full Review… | June 30, 2008
Variety
Top Critic

Ably aided by a fine cast and Jack Green's no-nonsense photography, Eastwood constructs a marvellously pacy, suspenseful movie which is deceptively easy on both eye and ear.

Full Review… | January 26, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

This material marks a gutsy, fascinating departure for Mr. Eastwood, and makes it clear that his directorial ambitions have by now outstripped his goals as an actor.

Full Review… | August 30, 2004
New York Times
Top Critic

A devastating portrait of self-deceiving obsession, and a notable improvement on Viertel's book in terms of economy and focus.

Full Review… | January 28, 2004
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for White Hunter Black Heart

½

Director, Clint Eastwood crafts not just one of his finest film but one of his best performances. It`s an enduring, compelling and superb entertainment filled with adventure, wit and intelligence. It`s sharp, thrilling, funny and truly absorbing from start to finish. A masterful piece of work that delivers gorgeous locations and wonderful character development. A fascinating and magnificent movie. I loved it. Eastwood is magnificent, he gives lots of energy, heart, passion and humor to his performance. Jeff Fahey is outstanding, this is his best film performance ever.

allan913
Al S

Super Reviewer

There is a theory that a truly great film director has to be obstinate and uncompromising to any opinion or advice anyone else on the film set would have, reasonable or not.Think about a director like Stanley Kubrick who was such a perfectionist that infamously required over 100 takes of the same scene.John Huston was another prime example, a man whom most people cited as being very difficult to work with. Paul Newman once described him as an "eccentric's eccentric."Yet somehow he managed to make great films like "The Maltese Falcon" to be admired by many for decades to come.



When he was scouting for locations in Congo and Uganda for the shooting of his famous 1951 classic, "The African Queen," he had brought along Peter Viertel to Congo and Uganda as a script doctor to accompany him.Viertel eventually published a fictionalized novel based on the experience called, "White Hunter, Black Heart."The account was a brutal, unflattering portrait of a director who got distracted from actually making a film in Uganda to indulge in his infatuation with hunting down an elephant.



Bringing this novel to the big screen would seem of no interest to Clint Eastwood, who, before this film, had completed playing Dirty Harry Callahan in "The Dead Pool" from 1988.That is perhaps why audiences could not buy him directing himself playing a character based on Huston in "White Hunter, Black Heart" from 1990.That is a shame because the movie marked a significant shift in Eastwood's career from playing gruff, no-nonsense antiheroes like Dirty Harry and The Man with No Name to deconstructing that very persona in the movies he has directed himself in.Eastwood has been quoted as saying that he personally hates violence and his directorial efforts since then have attempted to present an anti-violence argument.



For Eastwood to play a larger than life legend like John Huston (the character's name has been changed to John Wilson in the film) must have required some courage.It is a daunting challenge for an icon to play another icon and some may be a little jarred by Eastwood's imitation of Huston's swagger and mannerisms in the opening scenes.But it handsomely pays off in a complex performance that takes his typical gruff, do-as-he-wants persona and deprives it of the masculine heroics.



The beginning scenes of the movie feel a little disjointed and do take a while to take form.We first see Pete Verrill (Jeff Fahey), the Peter Viertel counterpart, meet Wilson in his large mansion in London to discuss the script and write the final draft.The various scenes work well freestanding, including one where Wilson stubbornly insists on his need to shoot in Africa for authenticity in front of the film's producer, Paul Landers (George Dzundza) and the financiers.Yet somehow the expository moments of Wilson taking Verrill under his wing to lavish dinners lack cohesion.



Once they move to Congo and Uganda, the film takes shape into a journey of obsession.Wilson becomes entranced with the thought of killing an elephant, despite repeated warnings that they are already behind schedule on the film's shooting.Verrill serves as the crucial observer and the voice of reason.Not that Wilson really ever cares to listen, until it may be too late.



There is a scene early in the film that immediately lets us know that this is not going to be any kind of exciting action film or safari adventure.Wilson is mad at a British man who is being racist at a Ugandan waiter and picks a fight with him.We first see him winning until the tables quickly get turned and he gets pummeled to a pulp.This sets up the rest of the film, which strips away the heroics and the potential for cathartic release of violence found typically in Eastwood's action pictures.



Why is Wilson so bent on bagging an elephant?When Verrill finally confronts him, he does give an answer, which I won't reveal, except to say that it does not make his obsession any more comprehensible or justifiable to Verrill, Landers or anyone else. The buried implication is that a deep obsession by nature obliterates any sense of motive or purpose, if it ever existed at all.



"White Hunter, Black Heart" is not quite up there with Clint Eastwood's great films like "Unforgiven" and "Letters from Iwo Jima" but it stands as one of his most interesting and ambitious efforts.It also serves as a key to understanding Eastwood himself, who has made a prestigious, highly personalized career from bucking his familiar character trends of yesteryear while working almost completely outside the normal Hollywood studio system.He has indeed continued to build an impressive resume as a filmmaker and he will perhaps also be remembered as a legendary director, just like Huston.

cancercapricorn2002
David Ladd

Super Reviewer

Good drama like the making of The African Queen, but it's not real.

deano
Dean McKenna

Super Reviewer

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