Heart of Darkness

 

Though one can’t help wondering what Orson Welles might have done with it, Nicolas Roeg’s adaptation of the Joseph Conrad standard is enticing and properly grim. Tim Roth is Captain Marlowe, a seaman assigned to journey by steamboat into the jungle lair of Mr. Kurtz (John Malkovich), who has set himself up as a god. Yes, Apocalypse Now had more ambitious razzle-dazzle. But how can you resist Malkovich as Kurtz? He seems to have watched Marlon Brando’s Kurtz and chosen to go in the polar opposite direction, creating a fey paper tiger who doesn’t seem plausible as a man who could assume control of a village. But then again, did Jim Jones or David Koresh seem plausible? Roth is low-key and solid, maintaining our interest in one of the most boring characters in all of literature, and Isaac de Bankole magnetizes the camera as Mfumu, Marlowe’s guide. The real star, however, is Nicolas Roeg, who makes the familiar story tactile and menacing; visually, the movie is powerfully absorbing without being show-offy. Kudos also to Stanley Myers’ score and Anthony B. Richmond’s cinematography.

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