My taunting of Katy for complaining about long movies (“long” > 105 minutes) bit me in the ass today. After an hour delay the movie started, and after 2.5 hours I was the first to moan about how LONG that damned movie was.
The project may have been initiated by the country of Namibia, but it says Burnett wrote and directed, so I’m laying the blame at his feet. So what went wrong? The other Burnett movies I’ve seen centered around small communities, so maybe his style can’t support stretching out to epic scale with ten countries and a hundred characters. Katy points out that Danny Glover had the only character with any depth, and Burnett said in an interview that Glover’s character was fictional, a blending of three or four real people, so maybe Burnett has problems with writing history and his strength is in fictionalization. After the recent reissue of Killer of Sheep, every film critic fell over himself to declare Burnett an American treasure, so maybe the combined weights of feeling like he has to live up to his reputation and deliver a high-quality picture, and feeling like it’s his duty to truthfully deliver the story of Namibia to the rest of the world led to too much compromise.
Plot: Young Sam Nujoma grew up in “South West Africa” (aka Namibia), a country governed by nazi… i mean Germans and occupied by South Africa. Sam always dreamed of a free Namibia. He met some guys who also wanted that, and started a political/guerrilla movement called SWAPO. He went to church and met minister Danny Glover. Then he pissed off to the United Nations and stayed there for twenty years, finally returning as president of his newly-independent nation. Yay!
I didn’t realize that Carl Lumbly (who played grown-up Sam Nujoma in a series of fake beards) was also the easily-manipulated slacker Junior in Burnett’s To Sleep With Anger.
Quoting myself in an email:
Movie feels long, and yet each scene feels too short. Tries to tell the *entire* story of Namibia AND of [Nujoma] without leaving anything out, so it’s an epic and a biopic crammed into 2.5 hours. Script feels like a wikipedia article. And story problems aside, it’s full of traditional epic-sounding music, and traditional cutting and camerawork… doesn’t feel like the idiosyncratic artworks that the other Burnett films I’ve seen (Sheep, Wedding, Anger, the shorts) felt like. Disappointing. BUT it’s got some great shots and some fine acting, and the stories of Namibia and Nujoma are interesting, so it was at least worth sitting through. It’s not total crap (like Amazing Grace), just not the great movie I was hoping for.