Save the world.
It's been ingrained into every human being's mind: save the rainforest; recycle; don't wear fur--but do any of us actually stop and think why? We've been told the answer is that the world would become a desolate place without the richness that wildlife provides. After seeing To Walk With Lions, it becomes clear we should do everything we can to preserve the diversity of the wild.
Based on the true story of George Adamson (of Born Free fame) and his assistant Tony Fitzjohn, the movie chronicles the pair as they rehabilitate captive lions for release into the wild.
Fitzjohn (John Michie) is a drifter, hitchhiking his way through Africa. He needs some money and takes a job as a safari tour driver. Through a twist of fate, he ends up punching his future employer and lands a ride with Terence (Ian Bannen), Adamson's brother. Luckily for Fitzjohn, a lion killed Adamson's previous driver and he is offered the job. The two bond and Fitzjohn becomes the son Adamson (Richard Harris) never had.
The rest of the movie deals with the problems of Kora, Adamson's nature reserve. The lease for Kora will expire and Fitzjohn tries unsuccessfully to convince Adamson to move the reserve to Tanzania. As poachers and tribesmen with their grazing cattle threaten Kora, Adamson is even more determined to stay. Eventually there is a confrontation with poachers and leads ultimately to tragedy.
When "Based on a true story" flashes up on the screen, two things are possible: the movie is either an excellent dramatization of true events (Gorillas in the Mist) or the movie is a melodrama that overshadows the actual events. To Walk With Lions is trapped between those two categories.
The individual acting is good, but when more than just one actor is in the scene, it lacks believability. When Fitzjohn tells Adamson that he's leaving, it doesn't have the same impact as seeing elephants ruthlessly murdered for their tusks. More time is spent setting up the background of Kora instead of fleshing out the characters who are thrown in without explanation and then leave.
Fortunately To Walk With Lions has the "save the animals" message to fall back on and it uses it to its advantage. Every scene that Adamson has with the lions is a joy to watch; he is more at ease with lions than people and it breaks your heart to watch the scene where he nurses a lion's gunshot wound.
The best scenes are surrounded by the always-present background noise provided by animals, whether it's a lion's roar or the quiet murmur of the insects. But when Fitzjohn travels to the city, the ambient noise is lost and replaced by the drone of machines. It's jarring because we recognize it as part of our daily existence, but after being immersed in the lush sounds of nature, it sounds wrong.
Throughout the movie the lions are never shown as cute animals, but what they truly are: wild animals. They are not above attacking their caregivers, which leads the viewer to join in the debate over why we should try to preserve them.
The best answer the movie gives us is that we would be lonely without them. Despite our modern lifestyles, we find joy in nature because we are a part of it.