Blu-ray review: Eureka

Starring: Gene Hackman, Rutger Hauer, Theresa Russell
Director: Nicolas Roeg

Loosely based on the real-life case of the Sir Harry Oaks – a notorious unsolved murder which took place in the Bahamas in the 1940s, and which also served as the basis for William Boyd’s novel Any Human Heart – Eureka is a typically Roegian mix of the baffling and the visionary, part courtroom drama, part mob story, part tale of the occult.

Gene Hackman gives a powerfully enigmatic performance as Jack McCann, a prospector who strikes gold in the Yukon and becomes the world’s richest man, only to apparently lose his soul and become bent on self-destruction. He’s backed up by a remarkable cast, including a lean, youthful Rutger Hauer as his playboy son-in-law who dabbles in voodoo and alienates his daughter Tracy (Theresa Russell); and Mickey Rourke as the smooth mobster who is dispatched from Miami to get McCann to sign off on a big casino deal, over his dead body if necessary.

Playing down the Agatha Christie whodunnit aspect, Roeg turns the whole thing into a picture of futility and a portrait of one man’s inner hell that acts itself out against a series of superbly shot backdrops, first turn of the century Yukon, with its deep frozen mining towns and plush bawdy houses, and then the decadent, leafy beauty of the Bahamas. It’s one of the most visually stunning of all Roeg’s movies, and as always with his best work, you’re gripped and disturbed and left wondering at the meaning of what you’ve seen. 8/10

TRANSFER A very good transfer which does justice to the film’s striking cinematography, with no dirt or grain. The early bawdy house scenes have glowing firelit tones and plenty of detail, and the later shots of McCann’s Bahamas home have beautiful pastel dues, with the sumptuous set-dressing coming up a treat. 8/10

EXTRAS 13-min interview with producer Jeremy Thomas, who covers a lot of ground very briskly – the origins of the film in a book about the Harry Oaks case, and the problems of location shooting in sub zero British Columbia. ~ Extremely interesting 55-min interview with scriptwriter Paul Mayersberg. He talks fascinatingly about how the material was reshaped into something suitably Roegian and delves into the film’s themes and symbolism. ~ 13-min piece with editor Tony Lawson, who describes splicing together the film while they were still shooting it halfway around the world. ~ Audio only interview with Nicolas Roeg recorded at the time of the film’s release and presented here instead of an audio commentary. Despite having his jaw wired shut at the time, the director manages to talk insightfully about how he got into movies, his theories of cinema and so forth. 10/10


Blu-ray review: Mississippi Burning

Starring: Gene Hackman, Willem Dafoe, Frances McDormand
Director: Alan Parker

mississippi-burning 1When it was first released back in 1988, this film about a notorious real-life race crime that took place in the deep South in the 1960s ran into some heat, both for its depiction of white folks riding to the rescue of the beleaguered black man and for the liberties it took with true events. Even if you think its critics had a point, it would be churlish to deny that it’s a solid, effective piece of work with its heart in the right place.

Hoping to discover the whereabouts of some missing civil rights activists, a pair of FBI descend upon a small town in Mississippi where the Clan ride round in limousines bedecked with flags. The locals have the cheek to suggest that the disappearance of the four youngsters is a publicity stunt, but as the Feds escalate their investigation, the Clan employ ever more extreme terror tactics to ensure that everyone’s mouths stay shut.

Evoking a world of sun-faded frocks and sleepy barber’s salons, director Alan Parker mississippi-burning 2shows the same keen eye for a frowsty, flyblown period setting that he did in Angel Heart, but in general he quietly subordinates himself to the main purpose of the movie, which is to serve as a showcase for a meaty performance by Gene Hackman, who plays Anderson, the older and more pragmatic of the FBI agents. The heart of the script is the back and forth between Anderson and his idealistic, college-educated superior, Ward (Willem Dafoe) – that, plus the mild flirtation he had going on with the wife of one of their prime suspects (a sympathetic turn by a young Frances McDormand).

Born in the South himself, Anderson has a deep understanding of the causes of racial hatred allied to an equally strong desire to stamp it out. As he urges Ward to match the Clan’s threats and intimidation with dirty tactics of their own, his relationship with his strait-laced partner is reminiscent of the one between Sean Connery and Kevin Costner in The Untouchables – or it would be, if it wasn’t for the way that Hackman brings a sense of humour and humanity to the role as well as a belief in justice. And it’s the subtlety and charm of his performance that lifts Mississippi Burning above the average. 7/10

The transfer is a little soft and grainy at times, but the exteriors are bright and sharp, with plenty of leafy detail in the scene where they wade through a swamp looking for the missing boys’ car. Close-ups are generally sharp too – there are times when you can mississippi-burning 3count the freckles on Hackman’s forehead. The night scenes with flaring headlights have a cool, crisp quality, and McDormand’s pretty pastel dresses also come up nicely. 7/10

9-min interview with Willem Dafoe – he grumbles about the flatness of his character and reveals that Hackman could be “cranky” on set. ~ 20-min interview with Alan Parker, who talks about writing his own script after falling out with the original screenwriter Chris Gerolmo, the challenges of filming on location (primarily in Lafayette, Alabama) and Hackman’s way of homing in on the heart of a scene. ~ !6-min interview with Chris Gerolmo, which is very informative about the process of getting a script made, and also interesting in that it differs markedly from Parker’s account in some respects. ~ Audio commentary with Alan Parker – not a very flowing commentary, but some interesting remarks emerge, as when the director reveals that they burnt down three churches in the first week of shooting. 9/10