Friday, 28 March 2014

Gold standard

Eureka (UK/USA 1983)
Director: Nicolas Roeg
Screenwriter: Paul Mayersberg (based on a book by Marshall Houts)
Producer: Jeremy Thomas
Cast: Gene Hackman, Teresa Russell, Rutger Hauer, Jane Lapotaire, Mickey Rourke, Joe Pesci.
Screening: Paramount Cinema (Wellington Film Society)
In Eureka, determined prospector Jack McCann (Hackman) finds his fortune in gold in the Yukon, becomes one of the world's richest men, and buys his own Caribbean island ("Eureka"), where he discovers money can't by him happiness.

Based on the book "Who Killed Sir Harry Oakes?" by Marshall Houts, Eureka is an ambitious film by director Nicolas Roeg and screenwriter Paul Mayersberg. It features excellent performances from Hackman and Russell (playing McCann's daughter, who is also the wife of Claude).

Eureka is a study of greed and obsession, a treatise on the way realpolitik interweaves with family politics, and a searing critique of greed and capitalism.

It is also complete rubbish.

This is a shame, as somewhere under this cinematic failure is a potentially great film about the USA. Paul Thomas Anderson must have seen this - so parallel in many ways are the stories of Jack McCann and of Day-Louis' Daniel Plainview from 'There Will Be Blood'. (The "stricking gold; stricking oil" scenes early in each film are especially similar.)

But almost everything Anderson does right, Roeg does wrong. Roeg's stylistic affectations were never more distracting from the narrative - never more a challenge to the audience "suspending disbelief" and being lost in the film - than in Eureka. These affectations are at their worst in the first act, where they aren't just weird, but downright goofy.

The last act is also fails, although this more the fault of the screenplay itself than Roeg's direction of it. For example, the court scene where Rutger Hauer's Claude, defending himself from a murder charge, cross examines his wife Tracey (Russell), is a great idea for a climax. She has to essentially savage him as a person (and, more broadly, deconstruct all the issues and events in the film) as a way of demonstrating that he can't be guilty of murder. It's a great ruse, but (unlike some other scenes) badly written: repetitive, overlong and melodramatic. Russell's performance here is both suburb and yet absurd - but she can only work with what she's been given.

The middle act, in particular, had just enough wit, coherency, and intrigue to make me think this film had the makings of something strong. So much so that I couldn't bring myself to give this mess less than a two star rating on Letterboxed and 5 out of ten on IMDb . But that's the best I can do. Like Russell, I can only work with what I've got.

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