Available on DVD/Blu-ray dual-format
There is something of the magic realist in this odd tale of large themes. Based on a true story (of the Harry Oakes trial) and with a hypnotic score by Stanley Myres, Nicolas Roeg’s feature tells of Jack McCann (a brooding Gene Hackman , from a time when he could display his acting ability and not just phone in his performances) for whom gold and the search for it in the frozen Yukon is everything.
Perhaps inevitably the searching in hope is better than the ultimate golden goal. He is suddenly (and literally) awash with gold and from the snowy wastes we are suddenly transported to the earthly balm of the Bahamas 20 years later where Jack – now richer than Croesus – lives with his boozy wife (a bewitching performance from Jane Lapotaire) and a daughter (Roeg’s wife and muse Theresa Russell) who succumbs to the dubious charms of Rutger Hauer as an immoral cad. The third part of the story is a rather tedious courtroom drama (and showpiece for Ms Russell).
The film is patchy and uneven and not to say incoherent at times – a gangster subplot never takes off. There is much to get your teeth into, however. It’s full of contrasts: hot and cold, good and evil, having it all and having nothing, the pure and the demonic. There’s an occult undertow too (certainly the best voodoo orgy this side of Live and Let Die).
It’s a visually rich and supremely handsome production with all the period cars and costumes associated today with Sunday night telly dramas. But essentially it drowns in its own pretentiousness. The courtroom scenes go on way too long and poor Jack, a miserable git throughout – ‘Once I had it all, now I just have everything,’ he says – is cursed by gold and good fortune and meets a horrible end. Donald Trump beware.