Strikingly shot but dramatically languid, “Kin” is a potentially powerful drama whose thread seems to have gotten lost during the six years of its on-off maturation before reaching the screen. Despite a game performance by Miranda Otto as a conflicted southern African wildlife ranger, caught between her brother, a handsome black American and the elephants under her care, the movie too often hangs fire emotionally, even while the eyes are dazzled. With careful nurturing, pic could attain some form of niche release, and demands to be seen on the bigscreen.
Shot in Namibia by South African-born director Elaine Proctor, the British-funded movie uses a variety of talent, as in Proctor’s third feature, “Friends,” which competed at Cannes in ’93 and established her name. Helmer again employs an antipodean actress in the lead role — in this case, gifted Aussie thesp Otto — but it’s American d.p. Amelia Vincent (“Eve’s Bayou”) who takes top honors with her stunning widescreen vistas of the Namibian landscape and beautifully lit and composed interiors.
But as in “Friends,” Proctor’s script is the weak link, asking that too much be taken on trust by the viewer and being far too dramatically contrived in its latter sections. None of the various threads is fully developed, and there’s an absence of dramatic highs and lows. By the close, the viewer is left aroused but curiously unfulfilled.
Intriguing opening centers on Anna (Otto) and her brother, Marius (Chris Chameleon), a Lutheran pastor, in the wilds of Namibia. Their relationship is close, almost closed off. The fly in the ointment here is Anna’s liking for Stone (Isaiah Washington), an American corporate lawyer who’s come to southern Africa as a kind of roots-finding escape and who is loath to leave.
Anna gets to spend some quality time with Stone when poachers shoot yet another elephant in her herd and the pair set off into the desert to find the perps. The guilty party turns out to be Anna’s assistant, Naniserri (Moses Kandjoze), who ends up shot by a paramilitary conservation unit.
Naniserri’s death alienates Anna from the native population, throws her closer to Stone, and leads to a split with her brother. Her confusion is increased when she makes a startling discovery about some of her closest friends.
Proctor’s screenplay juggles low-key romance, hints of incest, conservation issues and a young woman’s belated introduction to the wider world without managing to integrate all of them into a cohesive whole. The exposition is fine, but the development in the second half is fractured and increasingly schematic.
Washington rarely convinces as anything more than a plot device; Chameleon is OK as the brother, though his role would have benefited from less brooding and more real dialogue. Otto, however, makes the movie watchable, with a performance of many shades and emotional colors, even if she doesn’t look quite tough enough for the ranger role she’s playing. Thesp’s southern African accent is spot on, and other tech credits are top-drawer.