NUMA agent (National Underwater Marine Agency) and master explorer, Dirk Pitt (Matthew McConaughey), is convinced that a strange seacraft bearing secret cargo from the American Civil War is somewhere to be found in or near the North African coast, albeit no-one else believes it, including his long time working partner Al Giordino (Steve Zahn) and the wealthy sponsor of his work, Admiral (Retired) Sandecker (William H. Macy). During a dive off the Mali coast searching for ancient relics, he thwarts an attack by shadowy operatives on World Health Organisation doctor, Eva Rojas (Penelope Cruz) and thus gets entangled in her own mission - tracking down a deadly disease that is threatening thousands of people in North Africa, via something polluting the water. If unchecked, the entire world population could be threatened.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The sweeping, character-revealing opening pan around the lair of adventurer Dirk Pitt (Matthew McConaughey), neatly fading into the shot of waterfront Lagos, signals that this film values visual stimulation as part of its tools of trade. Within moments we are into action, as Pitt comes to the rescue of Dr Eva Rojas (Penelope Cruz) from the World Health Organisation, who is onto something in the water that is making people sick.
Quickly establishing the mood of adventure, the film's settings are new to audiences, adding an element of freshness. The struggling third world African locations are shot without obscene attempts at tarting them up, and the use of African music - sometimes joyous, sometimes sad, as required - provides an audio bed for the visual action.
New scenery and new scenarios, from the seabord locations to the sand dunes of the desert, are well used in the course of this adventure, which introduces an old fashioned hero figure in Dirk Pitt, McConaughey looking bronzed and buffed, dashing and daring, rooted in science but forged into action man. His zany buddy, Steve Zahn's Al Giordano, provides the ongoing source of light relief, while Penelope Cruz handles her feisty doctor with a neat combination of feminine and feminist. Her presence is sure to engage women in the audience, and is more than mere tokenism.
The layered story is sufficiently interesting (and almost believable) to keep us engaged, and it's told clearly enough to keep us engaged.
Sahara is a good example of an adaptation from a novel that actually works as an escapist entertainment with a few serious themes to give it some meaning. It plays like a sort of Bondiana Jones, but director Breck Eisner has avoided the traps of formula, while using the structure to full effect. So it's old fashioned but new fangled, with the tension well maintained throughout: strong narrative, good characterisation and heaps of fun.
Review by Louise Keller:
A boys own adventure to satisfy every palate, Sahara combines big budget action with good storytelling, spectacular locations and more than a hint of humour. From the pages of Clive Cussler's novel jumps Matthew McConnaughey's bronzed, muscly hero Dirk Pitt, who together with his lovable and ever-adaptable side-kick Al (Steve Zahn) are on a search for treasure in the corrupt and treacherous regions of West Africa. Our dashing hero meets the beautiful damsel in distress (Penelope Cruz as a doctor working for a world health organization) in circumstances that you would expect: he sails through the air, jumping on her assailant, and heroically saves her life.
Superbly directed by Breck Eisner, there's a raw energy in Sahara that makes us leave caution to the wind and embrace these likeable adventurers, who think on their feet and find enterprising solutions to every problem. When all else fails, do a 'Panama' is their philosophy, as Dirk and Al find themselves on a speedboat down the River Niger, hotly pursued by aggressive and dangerous adversaries. What is a 'Panama' you may well ask? This counter-action taken on another adventure down the Panama may not have been successful first time around, but this time it is a winner. There is never anything predictable about the predicaments this threesome get themselves into - they jump from camels to a speeding train, escape from the back of a moving truck while handcuffed, and adapt a small plane crashed in the desert into a wind surfing contraption.
Nor is there anything predictable about the characters. McConnaughey's Pitt is a cowboy adventurer, who isn't cocky and never loses his cool, while Zahn grounds the film as the loyal friend with the off-beat sense of humour. He is the one who breaks the ice when the situation is tense. 'I'll find the bomb; you get the girl,' he mutters. Cruz adds a touch of glamour and provides a touch of romance, although the filmmakers are careful to leave the passionate embrace until the final scenes, so the adventure remains purely that.
The settings are vast and exotic - from the bustling, colourful markets in which cows idle, to the isolation of the dry, dusty desert, where camels are profiled on flame-coloured sunsets. In addition to the big orchestral score, rhythmic African music filters through, giving a pulsating sense of place. We can feel the heat, sense the danger and taste the excitement. Sahara is pure, unadulterated escapist entertainment. Sure, there's an underlying theme about making the world a better place, and a struggle between good and evil, but at its heart there's a larger-than-life hero who shrugs at convention, and draws us in for a rip-roaring adventure at reminds us that life is for living.
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CAST: Matthew McConaughey, Penelope Cruz, Steve Zahn, William H. Macy, Lambert Wilson, Lennie James, Clint Dyer, Glynn Turman, Delroy Lindo, Dayna Cussler
PRODUCER: Stephanie Austin, Howard Baldwin, Karen Elise Baldwin, Mace Neufeld
DIRECTOR: Breck Eisner
SCRIPT: Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer, John C. Richards, James V. Hart (novel by Clive Cussler)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Seamus McGarvey
EDITOR: Andrew MacRitchie
MUSIC: Clint Mansell
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Allan Cameron
RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: UIP
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 7, 2005