The art of casual conversation comes into full focus during Howard Hawks’ deceptively weighty Hatari! Set on the vast African savanna, Sean Mercer (John Wayne), a gruff Irishman with a broken heart, leads a diverse band of trackers who catch wild animals for zoos around the world.
When an Italian photographer shows up and gets Mercer’s heart fluttering, Hawks begins a long series of vignettes framed by extended musings between two characters at a time. Seemingly more interested in reaction than specific actions, Hawks lets his characters hang out together, allowing them to fine tune thoughts on relationships, ethics, and the dynamic world around them.
In such an exciting world (the action sequences are riveting at times), where lives are at risk every day, these men and women take the danger with a grain of salt, longing for a connection off the battlefield. Hatari! admires its characters for their bravery, but more so for their ability to adapt to the changing tide of the seasons, both emotionally and physically. The film takes place over the course of the three month season for catching animals, and at the end these characters genuinely want it to continue, not because of the thrills, but because of the human interaction.
Hawks’ strange adventure film takes on a silly demeanor by the end, as baby elephants run through town leading Wayne to his lady love, but the entire affair, no matter how ridiculous, feels completely endearing. There are no villains, or shootouts, or betrayals in Hatari!, just various charming personalities trying to find human solace in a world where animal instincts are king.