Duma (2005) – movie review

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Movie Review by Vivienne Messenger

Starring: Alexander Michaeletos, Eamonn Walker, Campbell Scott, Hope Davis
Director: Director: Carroll Ballard

Duma, the apt name given to a baby cub cheetah and meaning cheetah in Swahili, is the animal star of this movie. Found as an orphan by a 12 year-old boy Zan (Alexander Michaletos) and his dad (Campbell Scott) as they’re driving back to their farm, Duma is raised as part of the family and so a tale unfolds of a remarkable friendship that develops between boy and beast.

Beautifully shot, the cinematography holds an awesome but hostile beauty that will test the strength of our two heroes as Zan embarks on an enduring solo mission after the loss of his dad to return Duma to his wild, natural habitat in the Erongo Mountains, hundreds of miles away up in the north of their country, as Duma approaches adulthood.

Based on a true story ‘How It Was With Dooms’ by 20 year-old author Xan Hopcraft, the director Carol Ballard truly captures the extraordinary relationship that grows between Zan and Duma. Supported by a team of cheetahs who share the role of Duma, the instinctual behaviour of the cheetah and Alexander Michaletos’ natural affinity to cheetah’s from growing up on a farm with them, is caught on camera and adds that extra quality to the movie with some incredible filming.

Making his acting debut, Alexander Michaletos is backed up by a solid ensemble cast. Hope Davis (in Gore Verbinski’s upcoming THE WEATHERMAN) plays his mother and British actor Eamonn Walker (TEARS OF THE SUN and upcoming LORD OF WAR), playing the role of Rip, a drifter, who teams up with Xan and together they forge a partnership in their struggle to return Duma to the wilds which ultimately becomes a struggle of survival.

There are a couple of jumps in the storyline where you have to make assumptions and then mentally catch up, and also the dangers of the Zi Zi flies aren’t adequately explained until the insects cause a life threatening scare for Rip as he protects Xan and takes the full brunt of the attack instead. Otherwise the dangers that humans face when they venture into the desolate wilds of South Africa are riveting stuff.

DUMA will tug at your heartstrings and is a tad overly emotive in places but this is counterbalanced by the raw beauty of the South African landscapes, the diverse soundtrack, the performances from the animal co-stars (and patience that must have been needed), which all elevate the movie into a thoroughly entertaining family film and to some extent educational experience as well. Carried throughout by a skilful and wonderfully natural performance from Alexander Michaletos, DUMA is well worth seeing.

4 out of 6 stars