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Documentary type films have always been tricky to make. They're not always about topics that mass audiences find interesting but there have been some relative successes (Gorillas in the Mist). "To Walk with Lions" is another one of these documentary type movies. Before I proceed, I apologize if this review has a sombre feel to it. It is one of the few movies I've seen this year that has had such an impact on me. It's been about 30 minutes since I've left the theatre and I'm sitting here in a coffee shop writing this but I find myself still thinking about the events of this movie.
The film is based on the true life accounts of George Adamson and Tony Fitzjohn. George Adamson (played by Richard Harris) is a wildlife conservationist in Kenya that specializes in the re-release of lions back into the wild. Tony Fitzjohn (played by John Michie) is a drifter that floats from job to job in Africa and somehow ends up being hired as Adamson's assistant. This chance encounter turned out to change Fitzjohn's life forever. The story focuses on Adamson's plight of running his lion release program and the politics involved during a time when the Kenyan government is in a state of unrest. The film shows the relationship that evolves between Adamson and Fitzjohn and does so through the eyes of Fitzjohn. This particular movie focuses on the time from when Fitzjohn is hired to when Fitzjohn takes over Adamson's life work in 1989, a span of 18 years. There is very little about the actual release program itself but rather focuses on Adamson as a person and what plights he faces. Thrown in this mix, is the problem that Adamson faces as the Kenyan government threatens to shut down his operations and put and end to his program. He must deal with this issue as well as handle poaching problems occurring in the area.
There have been many movies made in or about Africa but this film has a very different feel to it. Gone are the bright colors and crystal clear pictures. This film truly has the feel of a documentary. It is frequently very dusty and the actors always seemed to be covered in dirt and grime. In addition, the picture is not always in focus (either that or the dust swirls around so much that it dulls everything) that it adds an element of reality to the movie. You can almost feel the grit in your mouth.
Richard Harris plays Adamson wonderfully and he looks amazingly similar to the real Adamson. As to how accurately he portrays the real Adamson, I don't know but his actual acting performance was incredible. This is the first time I have ever seen Harris but he definitely puts his best foot forward. John Michie plays Fitzjohn equally well and the audience gets a real sense of respect and admiration from him as his relationship with Adamson develops. What makes these performances all the more impressive is that most of the scenes with the lions are done with both actors and lions together in the same shot...and in close proximity to each other. Some of the mauling scenes looking amazingly real too...maybe a bit too real. Some of the other scenes with other animals are quite graphic too and a bit on the hard side to watch. The introduction of Adamson's wife, Joy was a bit weak. It wasn't fully developed and left a lot of questions. From what I know of their relationship, it seemed to be closer than what was portrayed but I'm not expert so I can't really comment on that part of it but in my opinion, they could have removed Joy Adamson's involvement in this movie and it would have been just as effective.
Overall, I thought this movie was fantastic but you leave the theatre with a heavy heart. The lions are real and the reactions to them seem genuine. It is a bit graphic in some cases but it is definitely worth the time to see. Keep in mind that this is based on real life accounts of both George Adamson and Tony Fitzjohn and therefore doesn't mean that the ending is going to be happy. In fact, it leaves you thinking about a lot of things that we as a human race allow to occur. > A
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