Treasure Island By Mike White. Treasure Island (Scott King, 1999) Scott King’s film has little in common with the Robert Louis Stevenson story of the same name...
Treasure Island (Scott King, 1999)

Scott King’s film has little in common with the Robert Louis Stevenson story of the same name. Rather, King’s inspiration for Treasure Island came from ’s 1954 novel The Man Who Never Was (ISBN: 1557504482). An espionage tale, Montagu’s work shares details of “Operation Mincemeat,” a tactical maneuver wherein British Intelligence officers procured a corpse for which they provided a new identity and enough “supporting evidence” to beguile Germany into repositioning its forces in the Mediterranean. While Montagu’s book is interesting (albeit jejune), King’s film proves far more engrossing.

Setting the story at San Francisco’s Treasure Island naval base as the U.S. force ramps up the offensive on Japan, the film maintains Montagu’s corpse, code-breakers and little else. Assigned the task of creating a personality for the dead body in their office, Frank (Lance Baker) and Sam (Nick Offerman) slowly get to know themselves as they get to “know” John (Jamie Donovan), the new person they create. As the men compose letter after letter from the dead soldier to his loved ones, the audience sees Frank and Sam in the corpse’s stead until his new personality takes shape. Yet, John doesn’t particularly reflect the men’s better attributes as the crack code-breakers tend to project their fears and weaknesses onto the formerly anonymous body.

Both men have an abundance of foibles. Frank, a pathological polygamist, can’t find intimacy with a woman unless he’s married to them. Meanwhile, Sam uses his wife’s proclivity for ménage à trois as a means to indulge in bisexuality. Sam wears his masculinity as a badge of honor and uses these dalliances as a way to hide his desires.

In the wake of Michael Apted’s Enigma and Ron Howard’s A Beautiful Mind, it’s refreshing to see a movie code-breaker who hasn’t been heterosexualized. In fact, little in Treasure Island is sparklingly clean. King’s film feels grimy thanks to its dusky cinematography coupled with unflinching observations about homophobia and racism.

Moving at a relaxed pace, Treasure Island is a fascinating freshman film from King. Winner of a 1999 “Special Jury Prize” at the Sundance Film Festival, Treasure Island played at a few more fests before garnering a short run in a few New York and Los Angeles art houses. The film’s challenging story thwarted wider recognition. Luckily, All Day Entertainment picked up Treasure Island for a terrifically packaged DVD release.

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