Meryl Streep in Out of Africa (1985)

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Meryl Streep received her 6th Oscar nomination for playing Baroness Karen Blixen in Sydney Pollack’s best picture winner Out of Africa.

This is my second time watching Out of Africa, and I can only conclude that the film is just not for me. Naturally, the technical aspects are outstanding, and in my opinion, the only praise-worthy aspects. I wouldn’t deny that the cinematography and score are probably among the best I have ever seen in a film, and the “glimpse of the world” scene is as iconic as it gets. Pollack’s direction is fine as well, making the film easy and relaxing to watch. The story, however, is really uninteresting and I found myself just not very invested in the whole film. Klaus Maria Brandauer gives a good performance playing one of the most interesting characters of the film, but he is often tossed aside for the majority of it. Robert Redford is a charisma vacuum – seriously man, there were times where I wasn’t even listening to him cause I felt like he was just going through lines. It’s no surprise to see who truly stands out among the entire cast.

I have always felt that Meryl Streep gave her best performances in the 80s. It’s not that I dislike her work now (I love them), but I really feel that it was during this period where she shone as an actress. In case you haven’t realised, I rarely talk about her on this blog; not because I dislike her (she’s probably in my top 5 favourite actresses of all time), but because I feel like she has been covered to no end by so many other bloggers and the media. Her haters often criticise her for being overly-technical and mannered, which I agree in some of her lesser work, but at the end of the day I cannot not love this woman and her performances. She’s a brilliant actress, simple as that.

Actually, contrary to popular opinion, I feel that Streep’s performance as Blixen is one of her more natural ones.The only technical thing here is probably the accent, which is frequently quoted as one of the worst ever. Personally, I have no idea how it is supposed to sound like, and this kind of thing has never bothered me that much. What I really loved about Streep in the movie is how poetic her acting is – we all know how she can be a master scenery-chewer with those fiery monologues and teary eyes, but over here she portrays the character with a kind of subtle, restrained beauty that makes it all the more fascinating. She combines so many necessary and diverse qualities to make the character such an intriguing presence – pride, fierce fighting spirit, elegance, stubbornness, arrogance, coldness, passion and an endless desire to make something more out of her life.

People often accuse her performance as one-note but I actually thought she effortlessly brought out the complex nature of the character and developed her. Right from the beginning, we see Karen’s strong need for control and ownership, such as her insistence on teaching the Kikuyu english. I loved how she portrayed Karen’s fish-out-of-the-water feeling at the beginning of the film, and how she grew to respect the culture of the natives by the end of it. One of the most memorable scenes in the movie was when she knelt down in front of everyone and begged for the proper relocation of the natives. Streep properly demonstrated Karen’s need for control as both a strength and flaw, needing to tie up loose ends even when everything is over for her. Her stubbornness often irritates everyone around her, and yet there is something so admirable in watching her do things her own way, and (for the most part) succeeding.

I also loved how she explored her loveless marriage with her husband Bror (Klaus Maria Brandauer). Even though they essentially married each other just for the sake of it, and their marriage was doomed not to last, it’s interesting how the managed to remain friendly towards each other. Despite her strength, we can still identify Karen’s desire for passion and romance in her life, and it never becomes cheesy. Her scenes with Redford are probably the weaker aspects of her performance as it started to become a bit boring (mostly his fault), but I love how she tried to introduce some conflict inside their relationship, like her desire for control.

Streep’s performance, in a way, is perfectly in sync with her movie. She’s beautiful in an almost aristocratic way, and I felt like she really inhibited the character very well. Despite some boring moments here and there, this is truly great work by one of the best. 4/5, though I’m leaning towards 4.5.


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