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March 2016


cast: Gene Hackman, Theresa Russell, Rutger Hauer, Mickey Rourke, and Jane Lapotaire

director: Nicolas Roeg

130 minutes (18) 1983
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Eureka blu-ray region B

RATING: 8/10
review by Christopher Geary


"I never earned a nickel from another man's sweat!" Jack McCann (Gene Hackman) is a Klondike prospector who one day strikes it big in 1925. He finds enough gold to buy an island off the coast of Florida, where he settles down with his wife Helen (Jane Lapotaire), in a mansion house called Eureka. Jack's flighty daughter, Tracy (Theresa Russell), wants to marry a Frenchman, Claude (played by Dutch star Rutger Hauer, who made this just after Blade Runner), but Jack despises the foreigner, and doesn't want to lose his only child to such a man.

Based on a book by Marshall Houts, adapted by Paul Mayersberg, Eureka is inspired by a true story about the unsolved murder of real-life prospector and philanthropist Sir Harry Oakes, who was found dead at home in the Bahamas in 1943. Set mostly in the early 1940s, Eureka is a modern tragedy, a drama with mystical overtones. The story of a dream that comes true, it can only lead to disillusionment and despair. With echoes of Citizen Kane and King Midas, this is a richly complex fable about a man who has spent his whole life living for just one moment, and when it was over his life was spent. "Once, I had it all. Now I just have everything."

The film builds slowly in tension and atmosphere, defining the characters in larger-than-life terms, before the breakdown of the McCanns' family unit when his daughter leaves to live with Claude. Then Jack becomes blind to the dangers of his refusal to deal with a group of insistent 'businessmen' from Miami who want to buy into his estates, but Jack won't sell out to these gangsters, so they raid his house and - in a shockingly violent scene (by anyone's standards) - Jack is beaten to death, and then practically decapitated with a blow-torch! Later, it is Claude who is arrested and tried for murder, which leads to one of the strangest courtroom scenes ever filmed.

As we might expect from a Nicolas Roeg film, Eureka looks splendid (and more so in this hi-def edition from the Eureka label's masters of cinema collection), with some quite marvellous visuals that are worth the $11 million this picture reportedly cost to make. And, while the editing here is less fragmented than is usual for Roeg, there are still many hauntingly imaginative sequences. Roeg is one of the great British auteurs. His movies are a glorious celebration of the cinematic arts. As the critic Peter Nicholls wrote: "He [Roeg] makes motion pictures as if he were the first director in the world to discover colour film." The vividness and polish of Eureka results from the sterling efforts of Roeg's regular cameraman Alex Thomson (one of the film industry's finest cinematographers, he also worked on John Boorman's Excalibur, Michael Mann's The Keep, David Fincher's Alien 3, and Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet), who furnishes Eureka with an epic quality, a tone of grandeur that is present even in its scenes of domestic languor.

Although Eureka is only a borderline genre film at best, it does, like Roeg's other classic works Don't Look Now and The Man Who Fell To Earth, have a strongly magical atmosphere that's as fantastic and unconventional as any number of full-blown supernatural films. Under aegis of Roeg's creative management, various scenes of melodramatic theatricality - like Jack's intrusion upon the newly-weds' bedroom - become a revelation of hollow decadence ("Let the good times roll!") resounding with twangs and pangs of an extraordinary personality. It's a melancholy 'persona' that's explored, in part, by fascinating montages, hinting at a fateful interconnectedness of cosmic events and human life-stories, which means the movie itself is a dominant character here, so the fate of the McCann family, all victims - each in their own way - of the horrific murder on a dark and stormy night, is upended as a cliché of crime drama and transformed into something far greater.

With a great supporting cast - including Mickey Rourke, Ed Lauter, Joe Pesci, and Joe Spinell - the movie boasts many great lines: "You don't need your fortune read, you've got a fortune!" It is a very fine film indeed, and it was a shame that MGM/UA originally saw fit to drop it into a black hole of obscurity, as Eureka always deserved as wide an audience as possible. Recently, we saw Eureka's crucial plot themes - of gambling and chance, wealth and corruption (and strong individualism's rejection of, or resistance to, greed) - reflected in critically-overlooked TV series Magic City.

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