I''m not sure what it is about this film that hooked me. I remember renting this right after it came out on video (you know, VHS tapes...anyone remember those??). I thought it was slick, but curiously subdued. Much as Steven Spielberg had done years earlier with ''Duel'',...
I''m not sure what it is about this film that hooked me. I remember renting this right after it came out on video (you know, VHS tapes...anyone remember those??). I thought it was slick, but curiously subdued. Much as Steven Spielberg had done years earlier with ''Duel'', director Phillip Noyce took a story and stripped it down to a bare-bones thriller. ''Duel'' was reduced to "man-vs-truck", and ''Dead Calm'' became "troubled couple-vs-deranged killer". A word of caution, a couple of spoilers ahead, although I don''t reveal how the film ends.
John (Sam Neill) and wife Rae (Nicole Kidman) take a trip on their yacht, yearning for isolation, solitude and a chance to heal after the catastrophic loss of their young son. This isolation comes back to haunt them later, as they appear to be in the middle of the ocean, and help is far away. After picking up a man in a rowboat (Billy Zane, in a eerily psychotic role), John is suspicious of the man''s story, and decides to investigate the damaged ship Zane escaped from, leaving Rae alone with the survivor. The film splits at this point, telling almost two different tales. Rae, who soon discovers Zane is certifiable, and John, who enters into his own struggle to survive, going almost beyond the point of human endurance to stay alive on a slowly sinking ship. The movie is almost two films in one, which adds to the suspense. As John tries to keep the damaged schooner afloat, Rae has to survive the unpredictable mood swings of a mentally disturbed killer, not to mention his romantic advances, while trying to rescue her hubby.
Again, this is a subdued film. I suspect Noyce was aiming for something like a Hitchcock effect, only barely missing the mark. Graeme Revell''s creepy, minimalist soundtrack matches perfectly with the scenic solitude of the open ocean. Just as Spielberg had done with Dennis Weaver in ''Duel'', who often found himself alone, driving through canyons and desert terrain, Kidman and Neill seem to be at the mercy of the open sea as much as the dangerous behavior of Billy Zane. Even though it''s never really established how far they are from land, it''s obvious there won''t be any police station or Coast Guard ship around the next corner.
The film is not without its issues. Rae is able to communicate with her hubby (although John can''t speak to her, thanks to his radio being damaged), but she never thinks to send out a distress call or SOS? And towards the end of the film, Hughie (Zane''s character) appears to be vanquished, and the couple appears to just carry on with their vacation...like nothing happened. Nicole has her sexy one-piece on, and Sam is making her breakfast and washing her hair. Right. I would have been making a bee-line for the nearest port or harbor.
The film is short on dialog, and the action may be lacking for some, but all in all, ''Dead Calm'' is a curious, well-crafted thriller. It''s amazing to me now just how young Nicole Kidman looked in this. A sweet, peaches-and-cream complexion, and looking even younger than she actually was (early 20''s). She looks, and sounds, like she just got out of high school. She has aged remarkably well. Sam Neill, an accomplished actor, is a bit one-dimensional in this...the stalwart Navy man trying to help his wife recover from their child''s death, but he played it pretty well. It was Billy Zane (the only American in the cast) who nearly steals the show as a dangerously unbalanced psychopath.
Those blokes down under occasionally pull off a cinematic gem, and this is one of them. It came as no surprise to learn this film was produced by Kennedy Miller Productions, who gave us the first two Mad Max movies. George Miller produced this just a few years after losing his long time partner, Byron Kennedy, who died in a helicopter crash in 1983.