Alun Armstrong

W is for White Hunter Black Heart (1990)

White Hunter Black Heart is thinly inspired by director John Huston and the experience he and his crew had while making The African Queen. Renowned filmmaker John Wilson (Clint Eastwood) travels to Africa to direct a new movie, but his desire to hunt down an elephant turns into a grim situation with his movie crew, putting production behind and lives on the line.

This is honestly one of the best performances I’ve seen from Clint Eastwood. John Wilson is such a charming guy but he’s also reckless and selfish. He clearly has a moral backbone as he picks fights with racists and insults antisemites to their faces but when he becomes obsessed with hunting a huge elephant it’s like any of his likable qualities fade away. Though, were those supposedly admirable qualities really there, or was it all his ego? Using when his friend is belittled to make a point and appear smarter than others or using when a black waiter is mistreated to start a fight and get out some of his pent-up aggression. While in a roundabout way he stood up for those people, did he do it just to make himself feel good or from a sense of justice? These are the things you’re left wondering about John Wilson.

Eastwood plays him to perfection. It probably helps that through his long career Eastwood has played his fair share of toxic male characters but here the toxic masculinity isn’t something to be admired but to be cautious of. Combined with the ego and insecurity of an artist, John is a captivating character and someone you’re never too sure what he’s going to do next.

Pete (Jeff Fahey) is the film’s writer and John’s friend. He’s the voice of reason to a lot of John’s suggestions, or rather he attempts to be but John is so strong-willed that he often barely registers Pete’s objections.

Personally, I enjoyed seeing Brit Alun Armstrong in this. He played Ralph Lockhart who works for one of the producers of the film John and Peter are supposed to be finishing writing and scouting locations. There’s some good banter between Ralph and John as they have opposing ideas and as Ralph gets more used to John’s obsession and almost gives up on the film being made, he has some funny lines. Just the disbelief and grim acceptance of the film productions situation is amusing as he’s one of the first to realise how potentially bad a situation the cast and crew could be in thanks to John.

White Hunter Black Heart is a gripping film thanks to Eastwood’s performance. He plays a fascinating character and there’s a sense of foreboding throughout as he gets more and more obsessed with hunting a bull elephant. It’s very reminiscent of Moby Dick with the elephant being John’s white whale and woe betide anyone who stands in his way. 4/5.