After a tragedy, John Ingram and his wife Rae are spending some time isolated at sea, when they come across a stranger who has abandoned a sinking ship.
Yesterday I had the great pleasure of interviewing Director Phillip Noyce on his memories of making Echoes of Paradise which I have previously reviewed. I grabbed the opportunity to talk to him too about another one of his movies, Dead Calm. The whole interview will be transcribed by me this week and uploaded soon! Not to be missed!
Prior to my chat with Phillip I wanted to watch this great movie again, I hadn’t seen it in a few years and its always fascinated me that such a tense thriller could be born out of a situation where the characters are in a small environment – in this case, a yacht! Even with the huge expanse of sea, the limitations of survival were contained to one yacht for all the characters.
Before I start with the review, I wanted to mention that I briefly met Sam Neill at a London press screening of Billy Connelly’s The Man Who Sued God, way back in 2001 – far more memorable for me than him I’m sure, but I remember how polite he was and that always stayed with me when I watched him films over the years. In my opinion, he is one of the truly great actors of this generation and has thoroughly deserved all his success.
Starring alongside Sam (John Ingram) is Nicole Kidman as his wife Rae and awesome, epic bad guy, Billy Zane (Hughie). As a couple grieving the loss of their child (to note I can’t remember a child’s death being shown this way – its heart-breaking) the couple get away on their yacht, on a cleansing trip on water to process their grief and heal – Ingram mutters “Calm days, calm sea, start again“.
At the start of the film we see Ingram dressed in his naval uniform, its clear at the outset that if we got on a yacht with this man we are in safe hands. Its a reminder to me that scenes do not have to carry exposition, but just something as a shot in clothing can convey so much about the person.
There’s a dog on boat too, as usual my heart sinks as I know one question will be at the back of my mind while watching… ‘will the dog survive’? After all they normally do, don’t they? This dog too, was the first to sense something wasn’t quite right as he barked out at the ocean. A check in the binocular’s by Ingram, confirmed a beaten vessel – and also the first boat they’d seen in 3 weeks.
Attempted radio contact with the boat failed and here we get to see the movie title within the Ship’s log ‘Dead Calm’ (I love this in movie’s, where the title is made apparent). A man frantically rowing in a dinghy towards them is spotted and Rae and Ingram have no choice but to accommodate this stranger, already with a mad glint in his eye. As he re-tells his story on board the stricken vessel, a beautiful shaft of light hovers back and forth over his face, but Ingram quite rightly, is wary of the tale. Going through his belongings his suspicions are even more roused, this man’s tale of food poisoning on board seems a stretch of the truth. But how far.. Ingram has to find out.
Asleep Hughie is locked in a cabin, Ingram takes off to the other boat – we get some clever shots of things we need to take reference of (a gun, the dog’s tendency to open doors, plus the way it fetches items thrown into the sea). As Ingram is away, Hughie wakes up, of course! Ingram finds all sorts on the other boat, including dead bodies and quickly exits to get back to his wife and this apparent lunatic. The music during this scene was terrific, the heartbeat – it added so much tension into an already highly tense moment.
Here we start on the reign of terror on the yacht, including psychological warfare between Hughie and Rae, in particular one gruesome scene later (which I will return to).
Ingram sets off on his dinghy to try to warn Rae but as his boat nearly reaches his yacht, we see a glorious punch by Hughie which knocks out Rae. His attempt to re-board failed, plus a bleeding injury, he has no other option that to regenerate life into the other boat and try to reach Rae. As Rae wakes, we thankfully see wee Benji is still alive, and then greeted to my favourite scene of the whole movie, Hughie dancing. This is as creepy as the man himself, I honestly can’t think of any other actor who could play this as well as Billy Zane, what a terrific performance.
As Ingram finds more horrors on board, Rae can communicate with him (of sorts) with the radio and she learns how long the boat has left before it completely sinks.
Here is where Nicole Kidman’s character Rae, comes into her own. This lady with the soft beautiful Australian accent, has to endure the worst case scenario with this vile man in order to stay alive, and for her husband to find them.
This scene in particular is so well acted by Kidman, the terror on her face is captured over his shoulder. She outwits him with cigarettes after the act, while searching for the dart gun.
“The Lion Sleeps Tonight” belts out as she concocts a potion to knock unsuspecting Hughie out and a chance to turn the yacht back into the direction of Ingram and the sinking ship. A storm whips up, adding tension, Hughie finds the dart gun and a chase ensues and here we see the death I didn’t want to see, wee Benji – unfortunately a victim of the dart gun. Hughie finally passes out, she ties him up and heads back towards the other boat with Ingram now in a state of near drowning. Hughie wakes.
As the final portion of the film progresses, Ingram makes it out onto the raft and ignites the drowning vessel, Rae at last has her chance to locate him, that until the flames get taken by the sea. Of course!
Rae manages to spear Hughie in the shoulder and able to throw him onto a blow up raft which is attached to the yacht (why she didn’t cut the line is beyond me, but I guess that wouldn’t make a good story would it).
She finds Ingram – a simple kiss, relief, they’re reunited!
We are taken back to the earlier scene of her diving into the sea – a cleansing scene in my opinion. Ingram washes her hair too, bliss – peace at last. Or is it. Of course not, the hands washing her hair are Hughie’s but he leaves the boat with a flame shot in his mouth.
The film remains so good over time and there’s plenty I have missed out above. I was delighted that Phillip shared his memories with me- including the mating of humpback whales while they were filming. All to be revealed on my upcoming interview!