The main problem with "Farewell to the King" is that it brings to mind so many other, better movies of the same nature: "The Man Who Would Be King," "Lord Jim," even "Robinson Crusoe."
"Farewell to the King" stars Nick Nolte as an American soldier who, when he finds himself shipwrecked on the island of Borneo early in World War II, kisses off the war and the rest of the world.
Tragically, as he walks off, his shipmates are captured by the Japanese, and later, as he watches helplessly from the jungle, they are ruthlessly slaughtered after being forced to dig their own graves. Nolte wanders aimlessly and drunkenly into the deep jungle and is eventually rescued by natives who at first want to sacrifice him, but then are persuaded by the women to let him live. Three years later he is the king of the tribe, though how he achieves that is rather glossed over (and might have made a better movie).
Rather, writer-director John Milius wants to present an action-packed yarn that will bring out the little boy in the male audience and for the most part he achieves that.
But he does so to the sacrifice of his movie's nobler intentions, as his characters spout philosophical falderal in stiffly articulated platitudes that grow tiresome rather quickly.
To his credit, however, Milius is much more interested in action and keeps the film moving on that level. And Nolte seems well-suited to that end, though he is never allowed to probe the character's inner self very well.
The main story has to do with a British officer (Nigel Havers) who parachutes into the jungle to arm the natives against the Japanese, but unexpectedly encounters Nolte, who wants to protect his people from the war and civilization altogether. Ultimately, Nolte does do battle with the Japanese and these macho heroics make up most of the film.2 comments on this story
Based on a novel by Pierre Schoendoerffer, the film often seems to want to be an intellectual anti-war tract, but so often stumbles over its own feet that it teeters on the laughable (especially when Havers meets Gen. MacArthur). But then Milius throws in an explosion or a gun battle and all's right with his own little cinematic world.
If you like your action straight and generally with no nonsense, "Farewell to the King" is for you. If you're looking for something with a little more depth, however, rent "The Man Who Would Be King."
"Farewell to the King" is rated PG-13 for violence and a few profanities.