British East Africa, 1923. Harry Rudbeck, an ambitious army officer, wants to build a road to bring the outside world to the backwater town where he is posted. Struggling to find ways around Foreign Service bureaucracy,... more » he relies on his resourceful African clerk, Mr. Johnson. But when Johnson's can-do attitude runs afoul of British law, Rudbeck must make a painful decision. The film is deliberately paced, and the topnotch cinematography, art direction, and soundtrack all conspire to immerse you into the sweltering heat of East Africa. Maynard Eziashi gives winning performance as Johnson, a man so intent on becoming important that it destroys him. Like many of director Bruce Beresford's movies, this is a clear-eyed look at the way a collision of two cultures can lead to tragedy. Rudbeck must ultimately face the fact that his own ambition leads to the death of his friend, and Pierce Brosnan (as Rudbeck) and Beresford refuse to sentimentalize the man at all. Among Beresford's films, this is much closer in tone to Breaker Morant than to the kinder, gentler Driving Miss Daisy. --Geof Miller« less
"This DVD has the worse quality of any DVD in my collection, even though the box reads "guaranteed superior quality". Grainy picture, washed out colors, and sound that plays more through rear speakers are some of the low points. This is the reason for the low rating of 2 stars.As to the film, it contains beautiful African scenery which makes the poor DVD transfer that much more regretable. The acting is first rate. And the views of West African village society are insightful. However, the storyline is a rehash of the typical British colonial flick...you know, native mistreated by the overlords, gets into trouble and ends up road kill on the imperial super highway. Too bad that the director could not develop the characters better."
A Classic Tragedy
Ross E. Nelson | 05/04/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This deceptively simple, underrated drama is actually a very good classical tragedy, set in colonial Africa. The protagonist is brought down by his tragic character flaw; the rules of unity are also in evidence. Give it a chance, particularly if you are a student of classical literature."
What The Road To Hell Is Paved With
Ross E. Nelson | Casselton, North Dakota United States | 05/27/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Read Amazon.com's editorial review of this movie for a good overview of its setting. I can only add that the movie is a look at how good intentions can backfire, in this case that of the European view of progress mixing with African tradition like oil with water. The outcome is tragic, yet the principal characters have nothing but fine motives for what they are about. Culture and other impersonal forces have the final say, and one is left to wonder if progress, or may I say "progress," should be forced on a reluctant people. Director Bruce Beresford has been rather unfairly criticized for lop-sided portrayals of virtuous native cultures versus corruptive western civilization, but as with his superb "Black Robe" movie "Mister Johnson" shows some of the less flattering sides of primitive societies. Indeed, "Black Robe" set off a minor spate of protest for its unblinkingly frank portrayal of Indian tribes in North America several centuries ago. Ultimately it's probably safe to say that "Mister Johnson" gives a fairly sympathetic showing of the Africans suddenly entangled in the road project headed up by Pierce Brosnan's character, but does so without truckling. This movie also shows that Brosnan has a broader range than just playing Bond, James Bond."
Homer C. Sherman | 08/17/2000
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I did find this to be slow-moving, but nonetheless rewarding. So, that's a mixed review! But it was intelligently written, beautifully shot, and well-acted. And I lived in Africa for a year, and saw how some of the Africans really lived in the present, without regard for the future. And it's Mr. Johnson's disregard for the consequences of his actions that does him in. Very true to the African character, I'm afraid (call me a colonially-minded bigot if you want, but that was my experience). So I found the movie true-to-life on that score."
Homer C. Sherman | 10/01/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This film has some of the most authentic depiction of village life in Northern Nigeria I have ever seen. I spent four years in Nigeria (1962-1966} and I have never seen better footage. Many Nigerian intellectuals detested the novel by Joyce Carey upon which this film is based. However the work is an honest account of the clash of cultures and the human tragedy which often transires. I was disappointed that the jacket description says the film was set in South Africa. South Africa is as different from Nigeria as Portugal is from Finland."