Friday, 14 September 2012

Friday Night Film: Eureka

John Boorman described ‘Eureka’ as ‘the best picture ever made – for an hour’. I’m not sure that I’d go quite that far in terms of praise, but the film is certainly a game of two halves: one intriguing and dazzlingly inventive; one stodgy and unconvincing. The finished product embarrassed the (usually shameless) distributors to the extent that they were reluctant to sell prints, even to those that asked for them. Directed by Nicolas Roeg in 1983, ‘Eureka’ is based on the case of Harry Oakes, a British millionaire and rascal who was murdered in the Bahamas at the end of war. His son in law was tried and acquitted for the crime, but enough doubt remained that he was immediately deported. In ‘Eureka’ the Oakes figure is recast as the richest man in the world, Jack McCann (the mighty Gene Hackman, when he used to act in films rather than just appear in them).

Unlucky Luke.

Death Experience.

Near Death Experience.


There's gold in that thar pond.
In the film’s brilliant and disorienting opening minutes we see the destitute younger Jack arriving in the Yukon to find his fortune. The first we see of him is when he is fighting with his partner in the snow – Jack violently asserts ‘I never made a nickel from another man’s sweat’ and carries on alone. He will spend fifteen years looking for gold and then, after a miraculous incident where he is saved from death by a propitious meteor strike (which frightens off the wolves encircling him and ignites a fire which keeps him from freezing), he literally falls into the biggest claim ever made.

Note parrot shit on shoulder.

Esoteric Judaism.

Sweaty young lovers.

Father in law trouble.
Twenty five years later, the wolves are still circling in the form of Jewish gangster Joe Pesci who wants to build on McCann’s private island. McCann’s indifference to the proposal will lead to his death. Jack’s other problem is his wilful daughter, Tracey (Theresa Russell), who has married a dodgy French playboy, Claude (Rutger Hauer) but both of these issues are unimportant in comparison to Jack’s real angst: he has come to the end of himself as a human being – he put his heart and soul and life into finding the gold and then, fatally, found it. Without goals, without desire, he just wanders around ‘in a dress with parrot shit on his shoulder’. As his business manager puts it: ‘he used to have it all, now he just has everything’.

Jack has his death wish fulfilled in the most brutal way: he is beaten, burned with a blow torch and finally beheaded. Pesci’s gangster hitmen are there, but so is Jack’s business manager and Claude and there is some deliberate mystery about who strikes the fatal blows.

'What are you doing, Tracey?'

'The same as you: killing this film stone dead'
After Jack’s death, the spark goes out of the film so quickly that it’s almost like the second half was created separately by a much less talented director, a cinematic cut and shut. Claude is arrested and we are treated to his interminable trial, culminating in a ridiculous and unbelievable cross-examination between Claude (who is conducting his own defence) and Tracey. Theresa Russell is a pretty girl (and, at the time, Roeg’s wife) but she simply not good enough an actress to make her long speeches sound anything more than forced and hollow. Anyway, Claude gets off, but it ruins his and Tracey’s relationship. End of.

'I knew it would be you' 
Desperately disappointing, ‘Eureka’ signalled the end of Roeg’s reign as the most interesting British director of his time– after this, he never regained his touch and began to either repeat himself or accept more mainstream projects simply to keep working. It’s a real shame as much of the film is really great – oblique and enigmatic – but all the good work is wiped out by a deathly final act.         


  1. Aye, fair appraisal. I still rate Insignificance though

  2. Saw it 12-or-so years ago on a US VHS tape - handsome-looking bollocks. "You're guilty of innocence" (declaimed oh-so-accusingly) has to be one of the stupidest lines I've heard. God knows how it got made.