Jack McCann is an Arctic explorer who discovers a mountain of gold and retires to a Caribbean island. Twenty years later, he is plagued by family worries, encroaching gangsters and a gold-digging son-in-law.
One of the last great undiscovered movies, this is the sort of picture you could swear you’d dreamed. It opens with a long, hallucinatory prologue with a craggy Hackman lost amid the splendours and horrors of snowbound British Columbia and magically gifted with wealth in a literal golden shower (a breathtaking moment), then cuts to the 1940s and finds that the hero has become a Citizen Kane-like hollow man (‘once I had it all, now I only have everything’), worried that his son-in-law is another kind of gold-digger and weirdly diffident as persuasive gangsters indicate how far they are willing to go to take his island away from him.
Based on the real‑life story of Sir Harry Oakes, the millionaire who was murdered in his Xanadu‑like retreat during WWII, this is a film you can watch over and over: it combines visual flair and very strong acting (Mickey Rourke and Joe Pesci have early gangster roles) with ambitious and intriguing subject matter, but its precise meaning or direction are almost impossible to fathom.
Nicolas Roeg delivers a string of audacious, unforgettable scenes: the best exploding head ever seen in a non‑splatter movie, Hackman’s appalling death by blowtorch (the killer is Joe Spinell, of Maniac fame), the decadent Hauer smooching with a snake-toting voodoo priest, and a courtroom finale that turns into a bizarre love scene/acting masterclass for Russell and Hauer. It’s one of those movies that defies the star rating system: according to individual taste, it veers from 5 stars to 1 star from scene to scene, and even viewing to viewing.
Strong performances anchor a series of unforgettable scenes. Breathtaking and unfathomable.