Farewell to the King | Chicago Reader

Farewell to the King

John Milius's sincere but lachrymose adaptation of Pierre Schoendoerffer's novel L'adieu au roi, set in Borneo during World War II, follows the adventures of one Sergeant Learoyd (Nick Nolte), a U.S. Army deserter and former communist who becomes king of the Dayaks, the headhunters of central Borneo, and his friendship with a British officer (Nigel Havers), who narrates the story and persuades the king to join forces with his troops against the Japanese. Like all of Milius's best work, this is lush and romantic stuff, but the sentimentality about Learoyd's freedom and nobility continually threatens to turn this Kipling-like tale into camp, and as in Milius's infamous Red Dawn, grown men weep copiously throughout. For better and for worse, this is a 50s epic for ten-year-old boys, even down to the John Ford references (Learoyd teaches his tribesmen, whom he calls “Comanches,” how to sing “The Rising of the Moon”); the storytelling is clean, and even the watery flashback transitions reek of the writer-director's movie boyhood. With Frank McRae, Gerry Lopez, Marilyn Tokuda, James Fox, and a cameo by John Bennett Perry as Douglas MacArthur (who also gets the hero-worship treatment).

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