Underrated masterpiece or unknown curio?
Director Nicolas Roeg proved, across the golden years of his career, an adventurous auteur with an obtuse Lynch-ian style that saw his 1983 opus Eureka buried without a trace.Probably best known for his classic horror Don’t Look Now, Roeg’s distinctive vision – developed through his early work as a cinematographer – often proved painfully elusive, with viewers forced to wait patiently as the narratives of his features slowly came into some sort of focus. More about mood and feeling than coherent storytelling, arguably one of his most ambitious projects was the epic fictionalisation of the life of gold mine owner Sir Harry Oakes (with all the real parties involved renamed), whose mysterious life was climactic enough to push news of the victory in World War II off the front page.The film’s flamboyant fictionalisation itself runs somewhere between Citizen Kane and, more recently, There Will Be Blood, with determined prospector Jack McCann striking it rich and establishing himself on an island in the Bahamas where he finds himself equally plagued by a wayward daughter who has become utterly smitten with a playboy yachtsman that he doesn’t approve of, and by a group of suspicious interested parties sent by mob boss Mayakofsky (a thin renaming of real life mob boss Meyer Lansky) to help ‘persuade’ McCann to allow the building of a casino on the islands.
With an all-star cast, including Roeg’s then-wife Theresa Russell as McCann’s highly sexual daughter, Rutger Hauer as the charming playboy, Joe Pesci (on very atypically restrained form) as the mob boss, and a young, suave Mickey Rourke as his consigliore, the film rises and falls largely on the shoulders of Gene Hackman’s committed central performance as the eccentric Jack McCann, whose comparatively early ‘jackpot’ sees the rest of his decades filled with a frustrating lack of purpose as he can simply never recapture the magic of striking gold for the first time.
Between Hackman's commanding lead performance and the all-star support, there's plenty to marvel at in this typically offbeat Roeg curio.
Roeg’s vision both distinguishes and taints the feature, at times clouding the narrative structure to painful levels of obscurity, whilst rendering imagery and visual excess with the same wanton abandon as was prevalent in the ‘Heaven’s Gate’ era of filmmaking. Ultimately, the opaque storytelling style and theatrically flamboyant performances, combined with a semi-incoherent narrative that only hints at having any kind of meaning, leave this an understandably hard-to-appreciate work even from someone as unconventional as Roeg, although its mistreatment upon release was still wholly undeserved, and some appreciation as an all-star curio must, posthumously, be levelled now.
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