Ghost and the Darkness [1996]

Val Kilmer stars as Lt. Col. John Patterson, a 19th-century Irish engineer drafted by Britain's railroad bosses to build a trestle bridge over an African river, thus expanding the empire a tiny bit more. In Tsavo, Patterson is instantly hailed for killing a man-eating lion that had been making life hell for native workers. But morale sinks when a pair of unstoppable big cats devour more men and destroy the project. Along comes an Ahab-like, expatriate American hunter (Michael Douglas) to help Patterson face the almost preternatural powers of the two killers. The script by William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) is based on fact, though the film owes more to Spielberg (specifically to Jaws) than history. There are also suggestive echoes of Kipling and Conrad in the material and characters, and there are hints of emotional complexity and psychological nuance that make one wish this could have been a great film instead of a merely fun one. --Tom Keogh

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