Good story, good acting, good movie, with one major reservation -- the gore.
Just when we thought the romance of the British Empire was fading into cinematic history, "The Ghost and the Darkness" gives us one more chance to imagine life when an assignment to a critical outpost plunged young Britons into the adventure of a foreign world.
With a fine script by William Goldman, this tale grabs the audience with a terrific opening scene that announces the challenge: Col. John Patterson (Val Kilmer) is dispatched by his enragingly arrogant superior, John Beaumont (Tom Wilkinson), to build a bridge across the River Tsavo in Africa. "We're in a race and the price is the continent of Africa," the officer barks. The prize: the ivory trade. The British will build a railway across Africa in a race against the Germans and French; but the real opponents turn out to be a pair of lions.
Bidding his pregnant wife a sweet farewell, John leaves for the continent he has come to love through books. "You have to go where the rivers are," she tells him. William Goldman has told us within seconds that John is kind, honorable, curious, smart, courageous, and without a dark side. He's also a romantic: "I love bridges; they bring people together."
The bridge builder soaks up the extraordinary beauty of animals and landscape as the train rolls across Africa. "I've been longing for this all my life," he says, with utter conviction. As he steps off the train in Tsavo (appropriately, it means "Place of Slaughter"), John is met by Samuel (John Kani), an African who will be his mentor and interpreter for the hundreds of laborers who are riven by suspicion and ethnic differences.
Assuming the status of a legend by tracking and killing a murderous lion that has terrified the workers, John settles into the hot, hard work of building a bridge on schedule. And then the brace of lions starts the horrific rampage. Because they violate all the tenets of lion lore, they are seen by the workers not as animals, but as evil spirits. Terror infects the workforce.
Help arrives in the nick of time in the serious form of noted hunter, Charles Remington (Michael Douglas), sent by Beaumont as insurance for the bridge schedule. As they track the lions, John and Remington know they are dealing with metaphorical evil.
Playing against type, Michael Douglas and Val Kilmer create off-beat, sympathetic characters who let us know there is a great deal about them we don't know. Mercifully, William Goldman doesn't complicate his tale with excessive explanations of his characters.
Good story, good acting, good movie, with one major reservation--the gore. The audience has to look away, and each time it does, the spell is broken. We all remember movies in which terror rose in our throats over imagined horrors. If you want to ponder the power of imagined terror, ask yourself how many people still think of "Psycho" every time they step into a motel shower.
Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 496
Studio : Paramount
Rating : R
Running Time: 1h49m
Copyright (c) Illusion
Return to Ellis Home Page