Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Day 80: Eureka

Not a bad movie, exactly, hobbled by critical flaws, to be sure, but certainly interesting, Eureka is about a gold prospector, Jack McAnn, who strikes it super-rich thanks, in part, to a magical rock.  After he finds his fortune (alas, very little dancing around and screaming GOOOOLD!), the film jumps forward in time to show a man marred by his wealth.  He's married, owns an entire island, and lives in a state of paranoia, greed, and jealousy.  There are echoes of Citizen Kane in the way the character uses his money to craft a world of his own making and becomes angry when other people won't play along according to his plan.  His daughter, for instance, is in love with Rutger Hauer, something any dutiful parent would object to, I think, and McAnn goes to great effort to destroy their relationship.

This is a Zardoz-y trainwreck.  The film bounces around in time and space for a while, a technique that captures the McAnn character as a hardened loner against the rough landscape of the American West in mythic, grandiose terms.  It's not entirely convincing, though, and the histrionics surrounding his character in the first sequence of the film are so overblown, albeit in a pleasing Legend-era Ridley Scott sort-of way, that it's hard to get a handle on what's happening in the film.  Once we join his cranky future self, things settle down (to both the movie's benefit and its loss) and the plot that follows the elder McAnn is well-wrought (the film finds its footing through a particularly focused and engaging Gene Hackman).  But, suddenly, he's gone from the story and Eureka turns into an unconvincing, improbable, and ridiculous court drama.

The courtroom shenanigans don't work and the straight-forward Kane meets The Godfather plot digressions are lacking any real narrative thrust as well.  What's captured nicely, though, is a triangle of conflicting emotions between McAnn, his daughter, and Rutger Hauer.  After exercising restraint with the other straight plots in the film, director Nicholas Roeg turns on his faucet of editing gimmicks when this conflict is at the forefront of the movie, and they're used to good effect.  One sequence featuring Hauer at a Bacchanalian voodoo ceremony, cross-cut with Hackman and the daughter is especially effective as the rhythms of the music and the actions of the people at the ceremony seem to dictate what will happen in the narrative.  Then, we're back to the straight stuff as Hackman refuses to sign some papers for some land over to Joe Pesci, and it feels like a betrayal of the fantastic scene that's come before.

This is representative of the whole.  There's a fantastical element to the plot found in Hackman's magic rock that works surprisingly well, foreshadowing events to come and affecting Hackman's life in a subtle, uneasy way.  The film is very, very good at this and excels whenever something "odd" is happening onscreen (including an intense and grisly murder scene that defies all the cinematic decorum that's preceded it [and come to think of it, also the decorum that follows]).  But the more traditional narrative strands are done in such a conventional fashion that they feel lacking in comparison.


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