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King of Beasts

By Chuck Foster | March 29, 2019

Just the mention of trophy hunting will get most people riled up in indignant fury, though as distasteful as it may seem, it’s a much more complicated issue than simply assassinating some poor creature that’s walking around minding its own business. Entire economies depend on it for sustenance. It also remains the sole reason that some natural habitats exist despite encroaching development. Without it, villages would starve, poachers would exterminate the wildlife population to extinction and the African wilderness would be lost to urbanization.

At least that’s what the hunters say.

“…villages would starve, poachers would exterminate the wildlife population to extinction and the African wilderness would be lost…”

Without choosing sides, King of Beasts takes us deep inside this world for an up-close and brutal look at this arcane “sport.” We follow one such hunter known only as “Aaron,” a typical Middle American who loves guns and lifts enough weights to outweigh a pro wrestler. He also has several taxidermied lions in his home and fully buys into his own sense of colonialism. He goes on a structured lion-hunting trip in Tanzania surrounded by several local trackers, guides and hunting experts. He needs bait to lure a lion, so he shoots a buffalo and has the assistants hang it from a tree. He also slays a hippo for bait and shows off with pushups to a vanity photographer in the group while the trackers and guides cut it up. Eventually, a lion comes around and it becomes this team of professional hunters against this wild animal, but only one can walk away with the glory.

For their part, co-directors Tomer Almagor and Nadav Harel stay out of the way and let the narrative unfold through the words and actions of their subjects. They capture the numerous facets of the hunting ground, from the stunning beauty of the plains to the stark poverty that surrounds it. Most effectively, they assemble a coherent story without having to step in and force moments.

Those who support hunting will probably see a very different film…than those who oppose it.”

A strong sense of irony pervades the film, and it’s unclear whether this is done on purpose or just the way things unfolded. Aaron goes on about how “man” dominates the creatures, though he’s well-protected in a large group while the lion is fending for itself. He rants about how the wilderness is not like The Lion King, how there’s no dancing and singing in this savage landscape, though he’s the first to jump around and dance while the trackers clap and sing after a significant kill. One of the guides explains that you must always respect the animal, even in death, right before they try to hoist a slain animal on somebody’s shoulders for a novelty shot. Even when we first meet Aaron, he gets a fast food sandwich and removes the lettuce. You can’t write this stuff.

Those who support hunting will probably see a very different film in King of Beasts than those who oppose it. Supporters will see a strong, down-home man exercising his god-given dominion over the planet, while detractors will see a psychopath with a pathological need to overcompensate for his shortcomings by killing things. In this sense, Almagor and Harel are completely successful in presenting a subject with enough information that we can come to our own conclusions in the end.

King of Beasts (2018) Directed by Tomer Almagor and Nadav Harel. Written by Tomer Almagor and Nadav Harel. Starring “Aaron.”

8 out of 10 stars

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