There are a lot of directors who aren't particularly interested in plot. There are a few directors who don't really like plot. One or two directors seem to hate plot. Then there's Nicholas Roeg, who takes it one step further. He has such scorn for the whole idea of story that he invariably sets up a strong story early in his films and then purposefully neglects to finish it. Roeg refuses to buckle under to the Hollywood principle of primacy of plot, and his form of rebellion is much more forceful than never bothering with a story at all, at least in my book. Roeg rebels again in Eureka, and the studio meted out its usual punishment, by recutting the film and delaying its release. (I can't understand how he can keep getting studios to finance his films, but I'm glad they do. You can at least count on Roeg for something different than the usual stuff.)
Well, plot isn't everything. Roeg has always been much more interested in atmosphere, characters, and photography. His films usually reflect these preferences quite clearly. Walkabout, Performance, The Man Who Fell to Earth, Don't Look Now, and Bad Timing were all strong in these areas and deficient in plotting. Eureka is, too. But not, unfortunately, strong enough, or perhaps just too deficient. Roeg sets up a mystery, offers a potential solution (which all avid filmgoers know must give way to at least one plot twist), and then fails to resolve it. He did the same sort of thing in his previous films, but then he was able to make a virtue of ambiguity, while in Eureka it merely annoys.
Eureka is about a man named Jack McCann. We first see him struggling through the Yukon, one of the last of the goldseekers. It's 1925, and most of the gold has already been found. The boom towns are folding and everyone else is beginning to lose faith, but McCann is still obsessed by the rich gold strike he knows is waiting for him. Here the film makes a typically Roegian dip into the mystical. McCann finds a stone that is linked to his destiny, and then stumbles into a cave that seems to be filled with liquid gold. Instant riches.
The film jumps ahead twenty years. McCann is now the richest man in the world. He lives on an island in the Caribbean that he more or less owns. But is he happy? Need you ask? His wife is an alcoholic, his business associate is secretly making a deal with some Mafia types to build a casino on his island, and his beloved daughter has married a man he despises. He seems to have nothing to do with his life.
The film's plot twists and turns through any number of convolutions, some predictable, some not. Finally, we reach what is definitely an end, and we have a reasonable explanation for the major characters' motives, but Roeg regally declines to answer what were, for me, the two most interesting plot questions, one of which set the second half of the story in motion, the other a mystery that Roeg shrouded in enticing ambiguity, with the implied promise that all would be revealed in the end. These omissions are not accidental. Roeg clearly was never interested in the first, and tries to convince us that the second really wasn't important. He fails. Give Roeg points for trying, but ambiguous endings really flop if they don't work, and this one didn't work for me, or for a lot of other people, if reviews and the babble of exiting crowds mean anything. Some of the themes Roeg tries to address in Eureka are pretty clear, but there are others that never come into focus, particularly an ongoing dalliance with magic in various forms.
Whatever else one may say of Roeg's films, they are always visually stunning, and, again, Eureka is true to form. The discovery of the gold is thrilling, the other Arctic scenes starkly beautiful, the Caribbean scenes lushly beautiful, the interiors darkly beautiful, . . . well, you get the idea. Roeg was originally a cinematographer, and one of the best, and he knows how to shoot a scene. The screenwriter, Paul Meyersberg, doesn't deserve any praise for this effort; maybe Roeg forced him into it, but the script is maddeningly ambiguous and some of the dialog is very bad. Stanley Myers' score is excellent.
The cast is also superior. Gene Hackman gives a strong performance as Jack McCann. Hackman's performance is well shaded to provide just enough mystery to keep us guessing at McCann's motives, and yet so finely tuned that when we discover what makes McCann tick, we understand what was previously inexplicable. Theresa Russell, a Roeg favorite, is generally good as Hackman's daughter, though she has some weak moments in an overextended courtroom scene that Roeg stages in a surprisingly conventional way (with the exception of a single shot). Rutger Hauer, as her husband, succeeds in making us see why Hackman hates him and Russell loves him. Mickey Rourke is underutilized (and oddly cast) as a Mafia lawyer. Ed Lauter has the note of desperation necessary for Hackman's associate, but I can't picture anyone trusting someone so ratty looking in the first place.
Unless you're already a Roeg fan, or don't mind mysteries where they don't ever tell you whodunnit, you'll probably not like Eureka. I found it to be a fairly noble failure with some very interesting elements, but I have a great deal of patience with unusual films. If fuzziness and uncertainty makes you want to throw popcorn at the screen, don't go to this one. The film has been withheld for a year and a half, then cut to avoid an X rating (there are a couple particularly erotic sex scenes and some rather gruesome violence), but, even giving Roeg the benefit of the doubt about the lost material, I think that this film never worked.
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