Watching Peploe's Conrad adaptation spurs on a bit of a guessing game: what's so terrible about it that it was consigned to three years on the shelf? It's the saga of Axel Heyst, a reclusive American living in the ruins of his failed mining operation in the Dutch East Indies. Dafoe looks characteristically careworn as the man with a past - did he sell out his best friend to amass his fortune? - who rescues Alma (Jacob) from a life of virtual prostitution. It seems like a new start for both of them, but soon the couple must face up to the arrival of malevolent con-men Neill and Sewell, drawn to Heyst's island refuge by the rumours of treasure. The film has a lot going for it: South Sea locations, a persuasive period feel, a lush orchestral score that is among the decade's best, and neatly turned performances. Disappointingly, though, the central drama is the film's weakest point. Dafoe and Jacob seem drawn together by the vagaries of international casting rather than by any dynamic between their characters, and motivations get cloudier the more we learn about the pair of them. Since grandiose Conradian themes of honour, choice and redemption hang so heavy over the proceedings, events on screen can't help but seem overwhelmed by the ideas behind them.
Cast and crew