In 1942 off the coast of Borneo a group of soldiers including Nick Nolte wash ashore in a visually spectacular opening scene. Nolte bolts to the jungle only to find the men behind him quickly gathered up by the Japanese enemy and put to death. It’s a gripping first few minutes in this jungle adventure from director John Milius.
From this point forward our war time tale is told by a British Officer played by Nigel Havers. He and Frank McRae parachute into the jungles in hopes of convincing a group of natives to help in the fight against the Japanese forces that our stationed on the island. Once making contact and brought back to the village they are shocked to find Nick Nolte sitting on the throne. Three years removed from the opening scene, Nolte is now King.
Nick tells his story to the newly arrived soldiers. It’s done in flashback of Nick’s hardships and mental breakdown before being rescued by the jungle tribe and of his rising to become it’s leader. Nolte has found a home and sanctuary away from the real world he has abandoned and formed a family by taking a woman for his Queen. He wants no part of the war for himself or his adopted people.
He won’t have a choice when a Japanese zero strafes the village thus bringing the natives into a world at war.
Havers brings more men in by parachute and the film takes on the semblance of The Magnificent Seven as McRae and company begin to train the natives in using firearms and modern warfare. It’s no surprise that the battle scenes are vivid and exciting as director Milius always seemed to have a flare for action sequences.
Along the way there is sure to be much carnage and heartbreak as Nolte attempts to defend the tribe from the horrors of war but is ultimately unable to do so.
There’s no denying that if you know John Milius had a hand in writing Apocalypse Now one can’t help thinking of the similarities in the main characters. Both Marlon Brando and Nick Nolte come to be hailed as the leader of a jungle tribe who happens to a white man in time of war. Brando during Vietnam and Nolte during WW2. While the similarities end there it would seem more than a coincidence.
Other than the head Japanese officer played by Aki Aleong the enemy forces are played by nameless actors whose only job on film is to menace and die violently. Aleong is the one identifiable member of the enemy forces because from the outset he sits atop a light colored horse and has more than one run in with Nolte’s tribal leader.
The backdrop for the film is stunning and the imagery wonderfully captured on film but it left me hoping for a more emotional impact at the fadeout than came across on screen. I do like Nolte the leading man but at times felt he wasn’t right in the part. Co star and character actor Frank McRae worked previosly with Nick on 48hrs as his higher up with the loud voice whose constant swearing moved Eddie Murphy to defending Nick’s character only to be himself told where to go.
Way back in 1973 McRae actually worked for John Milius on the underrated (in my opinion) Dillinger appearing as a member of the gang headed by legendary (once again in my opinion) Warren Oates.
Worth a look but somehow misses the mark for me.