‘Edge of the World’ Review: The Man Who Agreed to be King

Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays the unlikely ruler of a jungle kingdom in this corny tale.

By Jeannette Catsoulis

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To play the British adventurer Sir James Brooke in “Edge of the World,” Jonathan Rhys Meyers sets his jaw and fixes his gaze on the middle distance. The performance — stiff, remote, magnificently arrogant — is odd; but, given the howlers of dialogue Rhys Meyers is forced to utter, it also kind of works.

“Here I am a stranger, even to myself,” Brooke intones in voice-over shortly after landing on a Borneo beach in 1839. (The hushed Herzogian narration is a regular irritant.) Having fled a military career and messy personal life in Victorian England, Brooke is disenchanted with colonialism, presenting himself as an observer for the Royal Geographical Society. He will spend the next few years fighting pirates, soothing rival princes and quelling a tribal rebellion. Simply observing, apparently, was not the thrill he expected.

Yet Brooke’s determination to wean the locals from slavery and headhunting is given an assist when a grateful Sultan appoints him the region’s ruler.

“We don’t belong here!” his friend Arthur (Dominic Monaghan) warns. (A fact that, to be fair, has rarely bothered the British.) But Brooke — whose likely homosexuality is teased, then roundly rejected — is too busy wooing a bride and enjoying his elevated status to entertain Arthur’s concerns.

Earnestly directed by Michael Haussman from Rob Allyn’s awed script, “Edge of the World” plugs its narrative gaps with corn and cliché. (There’s a possibility both men overdosed on “Apocalypse Now.”) In the most believable scene, a steamship captain (Ralph Ineson) scoffs at Brooke’s pleas for pirate-fighting help while tucking into a full English. The captain wants the country’s riches for the Crown, and, unlike Brooke, he knows it’s only a matter of time.

Edge of the World
Not rated. In English, Malay, Dayak, Cantonese and Arabic, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 44 minutes. Available to rent or buy on Google Play, FandangoNow and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators.

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