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Review: Doc ‘King of Beasts’ takes an unfocused look into the eyes of the hunter

Review: Doc ‘King of Beasts’ takes an unfocused look into the eyes of the hunter
Hunter Aaron Neilson in the documentary “King of Beasts.” (Gravitas Ventures)

In “King of Beasts,” the easy target isn’t the lions tracked by American hunter Aaron Neilson; it’s the man himself. The documentary follows him from his home in Colorado to Tanzania, as he aims to add one more creature to his living room full of trophies.

Cameras follow him on his weeks-long trip, as he and his group leave camp each morning for the hunt, a process that ultimately builds toward taking down the predator. However, the documentary lacks narrative clarity with little explanation of who’s who in his hunting group, as though someone forgot to add identifications in post-production.

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The documentary captures amazing moments in both its animal action and its intimate access to Neilson, who is unselfconscious and frank about his hobby. With no commentary from the filmmakers until its post-script, “King of Beasts” doesn’t take an explicit stance on the controversy of big-game hunting for most of its running time. Directors Tomer Almagor and Nadav Harel simply let the cameras roll, giving Neilson enough rope to hang himself with his actions and words.

But what may surprise viewers isn’t the brutality of the hunt and the casual staging of photos with the prey — the type that often attract ire on social media. Instead, it’s the condescension he directs toward the Tanzanian people as he sees himself and his tourism dollars as the savior of the country’s residents and its economy.

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‘King of Beasts’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes

Playing: Available Friday on VOD

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