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A Good Man in Africa Movie Review

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A Good Man in Africa is an odd hybrid of a film. For much of its running time, you may find yourself giggling at the sheer silliness of the situations its protagonist gets himself into, but the heart of the film seems to have been given short shrift. What's more, the whole thing ends on a flat, abrupt, and entirely unsatisfying note. The cast is as uneven as William Boyd's script. Colin Friels at 40 is a bit long in the tooth to be playing junior diplomat Morgan Leafy, a character whose approach to life is essentially adolescent; any 15-year-old kid of your acquaintance is likely to be more street savvy. (Friels’ natural comedic gifts help somewhat.) John Lithgow, only nine years older than Friels, rather overdoes the aging British diplomat yearning for a knighthood and a cushy berth. By trying to get every detail just right, Lithgow loses the essence of his character. (Watch the fine actress playing the small role of a visiting Duchess to see how an understated Brit ought to be played.) Sadder still is Diana Rigg as Lithgow's frustrated wife, badly photographed, unflatteringly garbed, with god-awful dialogue to deliver. At one point, her character dashes into the night with Leafy, dodging bullets, racing through fields, ducking under fences. The brief interlude is evocative of the heady days when Mrs. Emma Peel was the classiest female sleuth on the planet, but it all ends with a thud when Rigg is given more wretched lines to say and then dismissed with Leafy's voiceover. Louis Gossett Jr. and Joanne Whalley are two halves of a match made in heaven: he's a crooked political leader, she supplies sexual favors in exchange for favors in the real world. And then there is the incorruptible title character, Dr. Alex Murray, played to cool perfection by Sean Connery. Like Rigg, Connery is given a chance to re-create a moment from another time: playing a golf game that isn't really a golf game. His opponent may not be in the same league as Auric Goldfinger, but in his own blundering way, Leafy is more of a threat. The two meet again and again, with Connery savoring all of the film's best lines and stealing every scene. Check out his last moment in the film; only Barbara Stanwyck has ever managed to achieve anything like it with such riveting subtlety. It's such a great moment, in fact, that you wonder why anyone would dare to tack on the inadequate sequence that follows it. Reportedly, A Good Man in Africa was re-edited after an earlier version mystified audiences, so we can expect Bruce Beresford to come up with the inevitable “director's cut.”

1994 (R) 95m/C Colin Friels, Sean Connery, Louis Gossett Jr., John Lithgow, Joanne Whalley, Diana Rigg; D: Bruce Beresford; W: William Boyd; C: Andrzej Bartkowiak. VHS

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