Born To Be Wild


Duma (2005) Review 5
Director:Carroll Ballard,
Starring:Alexander Michaletos, Hope Davis, Campbell Scott, and Eamonn Walker
Length:100 minutes


When the credits started to roll at the end of Carroll Ballard’s enchanting family film “Duma,” tears of joy filled my eyes as I turned to the person next to me and exclaimed, “Now that’s what I call a movie!”

That’s because “Duma” is a pure cinematic delight that will take your breath away. It’s a wonderful, majestic adventure that features stunning scenery and a powerful, moving story that will touch the hearts of moviegoers of all ages.

I say this right away because the odds are that you probably haven’t heard of “Duma,” and I doubt that you would have read any further if I didn’t grab your attention from the get-go. And that’s a real shame, because this is exactly the type of film that has everything going for it – terrific acting, exciting adventure, a beautiful soundtrack and a mature, lovely story. Yet its distributor, Warner Bros., is throwing it to the wolves with hardly any publicity, and it deserves so much better.

Based on the children’s book “How it Was With Dooms,” “Duma” tells the true story of a young South African boy named Xan (Alexander Michaletos), who finds an orphaned baby cheetah on the side of the road while traveling with his father, Peter (Campbell Scott). They adopt him, name him Duma (the Swahili name for cheetah) and raise him as part of their family with the understanding that they will one day return him to the wild.

That day comes sooner than expected when Peter falls ill, so Xan takes it upon himself to make the long, dangerous journey through the harsh African desert to return the almost fully grown Duma to his rightful home. In the process, he fends off hoards of predators and the brutal terrain to earn his rights-of-passage into manhood, but he also discovers that sometimes if you truly love something, you have to set it free.

Carroll Ballad is on familiar territory with “Duma” after directing beloved classics like 1979’s “The Black Stallion” and 1996’s “Fly Away Home,” which also explored the unconditional love, friendship and loyalty that grows between young people and wild animals. He successfully balances both the awe-inspiring beauty and the horrific nature of the environment while telling an engrossing story that stirs your emotions, and he also gives his four-legged subject a fully-fledged “personality” during his adventure to recapture his instinct for survival.

All this rests in the very capable hands of 12-year-old Alexander Michaletos, who carries the film (his first) with a tremendous amount of confidence, charisma and strength. It helps that he actually grew up on a South African farm with pet cheetahs, so the ease at which he interacts with Duma gives the film a convincing air of authenticity. He also holds his own against Eamonn Walker, who plays the mysterious drifter who helps him on his remarkable journey, while Campbell Scott and Hope Davis give strong performances as his parents.

The film can be a little contrived at times, but that’s totally forgivable when you realize what a rousing adventure it is. But don’t take my word for it – see it for yourself. In fact, take the whole family, and while you’re at it, make sure you tell another family to see it too. Just don’t be surprised if tears of joy fill your eyes when you spread the good word. After all, that’s what I call a movie!