(UK/USA - 1983)

by Mike Lorefice

Cast: Gene Hackman, Theresa Russell, Rutger Hauer, Mickey Rourke, Joe Pesci
Genre: Drama/Fantasy
Director: Nicolas Roeg
Screenplay: Paul Mayersberg from Marshall Houts' book "Who killed Sir Harry Oakes?"
Cinematography: Alex Thomson
Composer: Stanley Myers, Hans Zimmer
Runtime: 130 minutes

The kind of film that most viewers will either love or hate, and everyone will remember how much they did regardless of their chosen emotion. I loved this movie. It was like a metaphysical sexed up version of Citizen Kane. Even if you don't like it, you'll still feel like you saw something. It has absolutely stunning visuals, some incredible and wildly imaginative sequences, and showcases the underrated acting ability of Nicolas Roeg's wife Theresa Russell. Aside from the fake heads, the only thing that keeps it from being one of the best visual movies ever is that there are several sequences, particularly in the final act, that you can't do much with. There's only so much you can do with the look a court scene, but Russell's emotional performance is so captivating that the look wouldn't matter if not for this being the climax after the earlier portions were so magnificently photographed by Alex Thomson (Excalibur, Labyrinth, Alien 3).

Roeg movies seem to be fantasies in more ways than one.  If you take this at face value it might seem pretty weakly written, but if not you may realize there are a number of interesting and important themes. As usual, Roeg's view on life is cynical and his characters have problems communicating their true feelings. The main point of the movie is to show the effects of a man (Hackman) having nothing to live for because he's accomplished the only thing he set out to do, and how this affects his family. It particularly effects his daughter, Russell, which in turn has a big influence on her relationship with her playboy boyfriend, Hauer. But in the end, all three are linked because Eureka is not necessarily riches, but reaching your big goal in life and then not really having anything to live for, no drive. For Russell's character it's emotional riches rather than the material riches of her father, but ultimately the type is irrelevant.

Hackman discovering gold so early in his life really magnifies the unfulfillment of his life and shows that materials do not equal happiness. I liked the observation Matt White made to me, saying "Its almost like Hackman`s character is enclosed in that rock when he discovers the gold and is stagnant until he dies (when it breaks)."  He gets to do whatever he wants on his island, Eureka, but there's nothing that he wants to do. The greedy businessman characters played by Pesci & sidekick Rourke aren't particularly deep or well developed, though they are good enough actors (though with Rourke it's easy to forget it given the plethora of terrible roles overshadow the few films like Year of the Dragon and Barfly where he gives memorable performances) to make them interesting and lively. They are pretty much just there to try to bring Hackman down since Hackman always made a point of doing all the work himself, and now he has no desire to work. The point the movie makes is that Hackman is already down because he hasn't cared about himself or his life since he discovered gold. Hauer's character is much better because he's still unfulfilled, and it's important to notice the similarities between his character and Hackman's, as he is in some ways he is also a younger version.

The performances range from effective to exceptional. Hackman gives one of his better performances, the fearless Theresa Russell rules as usual in the role that requires the most range, & Hauer again makes me think it's really a waste that he got so many lousy roles because he has a kind of cool intense detachment that is fairly unique to him and serves him well in a number of different roles. The movie has some problems, but the number depends more on your interpretation of the film. Everything isn't totally plausible, but Roeg has always been much more concerned with making his points in fantastic and though provoking ways than with the details.

Nicolas Roeg is one of the great artists of cinema. His use of colors is stunning. The sequence where Hackman discovers gold is one of the best I've ever seen. There's also a wild native sex ritual, some crazy gore, etc. It's not as good as Walkabout, but certainly a movie with a lot of imagination that won't soon be forgotten.





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