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Movie Info


PG for mild adventure peril


September 30th, 2005


Action/Adventure, Drama and Kids/Family


Hope Davis, Campbell Scott, Alex Michaeletos, Eamonn Walker, Nthabiseng Kenoshi


Carroll Ballard


Warner Bros. Pictures Distribution


Please Note

In providing movie reviews on our site, is not endorsing or recommending films we review. Our goal is to provide Christians with information about the latest movies, both the good and the bad, so that our readers may make an informed decision as to whether or not films are appropriate for them and their families.



By Nathaniel Bell
Guest Reviewer Carroll Ballard’s work seems to exist in a category by itself. Where most films aimed at family audiences are formulaic, his are mythical. Where others are thoughtless, his are pensive. Over the years, filmgoers have been conditioned to expect less from their entertainment. This is especially true in regards to children’s pictures, a genre in which mediocrity has become embraced as the norm. Given these circumstances, Duma seems like a departure from typical family fare, when in fact it should be considered the standard. Once again, Ballard’s mythical approach to filmmaking—his complete lack of cynicism and refusal to succumb to the demands of popular culture—works beautifully in his favor.

The Black Stallion, which Ballard directed in 1979, has the enduring quality of a classic because the universality of the emotions, the timelessness of the story, and the intense beauty of the images do not pander to a specific age group. Like an archetypal fairy tale, it only grows more meaningful with age. Likewise, his 1996 film Fly Away Home, with its grownup theme about the responsibility of parenthood, is arguably more rewarding for adults than it is for children, although kids will no doubt be enthralled by its simple yet elegant storyline. Duma is Ballard’s first narrative film in nine years, and it is marked by a similar respect for its audience.

In rural South Africa, 12-year-old Xan (a winning, natural performance by newcomer Alexander Michaletos) finds an orphaned cheetah in the middle of the road. His parents (Campbell Scott and Hope Davis, who each gather sympathy in their usual quiet way) allow him to keep it. When calamity unexpectedly strikes, Xan feels compelled to leave his home and escort the cub (which he has named Duma) back to the wild where it belongs. In his travels, he encounters a weary traveler (wonderfully played by Eamonn
Walker) who may have different plans for Xan and his animal companion.

Duma is a deceptively simple film, starting out along conventional lines and then slowly deepening to reveal itself in layers. Like Ballard’s previous films, it feels alive to the realities of growing up, the pain of separation, and the tragedy of loss. It is also uncommonly aware of the astonishing, sometimes cruel beauty of nature, where animals prey upon each other and regard their human adversaries with cool indifference. Conversely, it pays tribute to the inexplicable spiritual bond that has been known to develop between man and beast.

Many critics—including Roger Ebert—have fought hard for the film to receive a theatrical release. Now that their efforts have finally paid off (the film is currently playing in Los Angeles and New York), Duma probably won’t be around for much longer. Poor box office numbers have sounded the death knell for this lovely and sincere little picture. If you prefer your entertainment tender, wise, and serenely beautiful, you had best catch Duma before it becomes relegated to the back shelves of video stores, where the rest of Ballard’s films remain, waiting to be rediscovered.

Nathaniel Bell is a film critic in Southern California. Review used by permission.


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