In a performance which really establishes the Supporting Actress Oscar winner as a true star, Basinger recreates the experience of a social beauty who undertakes the challenge of a new life in Kenya with her young son and her new love, Paolo, a charming but self-involved playboy-turned-rancher.
While the film will probably earn criticism for being yet another story about white folks imposing themselves on a black world, the movie manages to be sufficiently aware of this trespass to merit understanding. It deals with the truth of this trespass and the problems it causes as it impacts the story, but not at the expense of the personal saga it strives to relate. Kuki is in love, not just with her family but with Africa and its land and its people. It is arguable what those sometimes conflicted passions should earn her, but certainly no one could wish for her the price she pays.
Basinger manages to make that love fully visible and comprehensible without pushing for false emotion or shedding her natural glamour. Hudson's direction, though clearly enjoying the opportunities to capture the sweep of land and people, flora and fauna, is actually most comfortable when centered on Basinger, coping with a way of life both harsh and privileged while trying to protect both son and lover from the dangers of their impetuous natures.
Vincent Perez is so personable as Paolo, its easy to understand how he earns forgiveness for his constant emotional sins, and the two young actors who portray Kuki's son Emanuele as first a boy (Liam Aiken) and then a youth (Garrett Strommen) have equal charm. Left on the sidelines in incidental roles are Eva Marie Saint as Kuki's mother, confused by her daughter's choices; the other white settlers; and the African people born in the land Kuki inhabits. But this is a true story, a love story and Kuki's story, as the autobiographical title states, and as such contains both the mundane and the unexpected intertwined in a way few fictional dramas would dare. Kuki dreamed. She lived reality. Yet she still dreamed. She calls the Ol Ari Nyiro ranch her home and now heads up a foundation dedicated to promoting the harmonious existence of people and wild animals. Her personal history is compelling and Basinger makes this unusual life unfurl beautifully. Starring Kim Basinger, Vincent Perez and Eva Marie Saint. Directed by Hugh Hudson. Written by Paula Milne and Susan Shilliday. Produced by Stanley R. Jaffe and Allyn Stewart. A Columbia release. Drama. Rated PG-13 for a scene of nudity/sensuality and some violent/traumatic episodes. Running time: 120 min