Wednesday, 30 March 2016


eureka tells the story of gold prospector jack mccann who strikes it rich and retires to a life of luxury only to fear that his daughter and her husband have their eyes on his fortune. however, the real threat comes from the gangsters intent on taking mccann's wealth by any means necessary.

the story is based on the real life unsolved murder of sir harry oakes in 1943, a case that was notorious for the high profiles of the people involved and the brutal fashion in which oakes was killed. there are several books about the oakes murder and subsequently a number of films, but eureka was the first adaptation of the story for the screen. notably, writer paul mayersberg and director nicolas roeg take some interesting liberties with the story.

the film opens with a sequence of events that show how mccann found his gold, including a particularly shocking encounter with a fellow prospector. he later enlists the help of a fortune teller, which does indeed lead him to his fortune. it's these surreal, shocking and mysterious elements that elevate the story from a sordid true crime tale to something profound and fascinating.

one of the most striking elements of the film now is the amazing cast, most of whom went on to forge legendary careers themselves. gene hackman does his best to make you dislike him with his fiery performance as mccann, but manages to include just enough humanity to make you empathise with him. theresa russell and rutger hauer are great as mccann's daughter and her husband, portraying an incredibly complex emotional relationship that seems to thrive either entirely on love or entirely on sex, varying from scene to scene. hauer in particular does a fantastic job of playing a character whom you never know whether to like or despise. there are also great supporting roles from mickey rourke, joe pesci and en lauter, and even a typically creepy appearence from joe spinell.

as expected of roeg there are moments of surreal beauty in the most unlikely of scenes, particularly in the brutal murder scene which ends with fireworks and a shower of feathers falling like snow.  the fireworks in particular are an important image and one that roeg uses a couple of times. there is a sense that mccann is essentially a bomb waiting to go off, and that his increasing anger, frustration and paranoia about his money is a flame moving closer and closer to the fuse.

when the hackman bomb does explode the film takes another turn and the final act is an unexpected courtroom drama. interestingly, roeg shows us exactly what happens to mccann so the unsolved element is removed. however, roeg being the filmmaker that he is this is no ordinary courtroom scene and by the end the court are forced to watch without interruption as russell and hauer work out the intimate problems of their relationship in front of the jury.

it has to be said that eureka can be a tough watch at times. none of the characters are particularly likable, and though all the actors add a little something to keep us interested and to see their characters as human, it is for the most part a story of greed, selfishness and paranoia. there is no light side to this story, but then given the subject matter it's easy to see why.

that said, if you stick with it this is a fascinating study of wealth and what happens to the rich when they grow older and begin to see what little they really have. worth watching for the cast alone, it's certainly an interesting film and one that deserves a place among the more recognised classics.

eureka is out now on blu-ray as part of eureka entertainment's masters of cinema series

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