Bryce Courtenay’s South African coming-of-age novel is brought to the screen with mixed success in this lushly mounted production. On the one hand a captivating and inspiring tale of a boy’s journey to courage amid searing injustice, pic often gives way to scenes of intense violence that are likely to bludgeon the very sensibilities it seeks to awaken.
In 1930s Zimbabwe, young white P.K. is orphaned and sent to a boarding school. The only English boy among Afrikaaners, he is treated brutally, a victim of the bitter struggle among the two colonizing groups for control of South Africa. Kindly German composer and botanist Doc (Armin Mueller-Stahl) educates his mind, and dignified black prisoner Geel Piet (Morgan Freeman) teaches P.K. to defend himself in the boxing ring.
Piet molds P.K. into a boxing champion and spreads word among the hundreds of other black prisoners that he’s the legendary Rainmaker, come to make peace. As P.K. grows up (played admirably at age 18 by Californian Stephen Dorff), he decides to fulfill that destiny, defying the brutally racist regime.
Beautifully produced and gorgeously shot on location in Zimbabwe by lenser Dean Semler, picture has depth, dimension and first-rate casting.