Edge of the World is based on the life of James Brooke, the man who inspired –in whole or in part– novels by Conrad and Kipling. Brooke, a veteran of the Bengal Army, sailed to Borneo in the late 1830s and, after helping the Sultan of Brunei put down a rebellion, was gifted rule of Sarawak, a large swath of land on the northeast side of the island. He ruled for decades, and his descendants ruled all the way into the mid 20th century.
There is, as they say, a lot of story to tell here. This movie doesn’t quite tell it, though.
The problem with telling this kind of story is that you have to decide what to include. Brooke’s life was surely an interesting one, but how much of it must you tell? Brooke arrived in Borneo in 1839 and ruled Sarawak for 30 years, and this film attempts to fit too much of that time into its 95-minute runtime. The result is that there isn’t much adventure in this adventure movie.
Early in the story, Brooke travels upriver to put down a rebellion. They lay siege to a fort, but there isn’t much in the way of battle, and the situation is resolved quickly and without much happening. The rest of the film follows Brooke as he rules his new kingdom, and in a time period that includes campaigns against piracy and headhunting, we see almost none of that. Instead, we see Brooke and his friends and servants speaking about their challenges but rarely actually facing them.
There are things to like in the movie, though, with both Johnathan Rhys Meyers and Dominic Monaghan doing their best versions of Victorian gentlemen. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t give Monaghan enough time, but he is the highlight of most of his scenes. Meyers is nearly unrecognizable physically, looking gaunt and tired to go with Brooke’s ongoing self-doubt and running from his murky past.
The other place the film really shines is in the cinematography. Cinematographer Jaime Feliu-Torres has the advantage of shooting on location in Borneo, and every scene is full of lush and gorgeous scenery. Ultimately though, this is an adventure film that mostly talks about adventure without actually showing it. There’s also very little in the way of discussion of how Brooke actually ruled. Much lip service is given to suppressing piracy and rebellion, but what methods did he use? Not only that, but the trope of the white man going east and finding himself is… well, it’s a little well worn, to say the least.
There are interesting stories to be told here, but by trying to choose them all the film fails to give any of them their due, and it feels like a sanitized version of what reality probably was.
Edge of the World will be available on demand starting June 4th.