After the tragic death of their child, a Royal Australian Navy officer (Sam Neill, Jurassic Park) and his wife (Nicole Kidman, The Hours) decide to take an extended trip on their yacht. One day, the couple bumps into a sinking ship and rescues the boat’s only survivor (Billy Zane, James Cameron’s Titanic). The couple slowly begins to suspect that the marooned man isn’t telling the whole truth about the shipwreck.
Reaction & Thoughts:
“You are very aggressive. That can be a real problem on a small boat!”
On the surface, Phillip Noyce’s Aussie thriller Dead Calm feels like a remake of Roman Polanski’s 1962 thriller Knife in the Water. However, I quickly realized that there is really no comparison: despite many plot similarities, Polanski’s thriller is a complex study of marital discord, while Noyce’s movie is nothing but empty-headed escapism.
Based on a novel by pulp fiction author Charles Williams, Dead Calm won’t stimulate your brain cells. It’s the kind of “popcorn movie” that is perfectly content with enthralling the viewers with a series of thrilling sequences.
I tend to believe that there is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to entertain the audience at all costs. I do think that the movie missed a perfect chance to explore substantive social issues. But if you are looking for a straightforward, unpretentious and fun edge-of-your-seat suspenser, this is the movie for you.
As I said before, Terry Hayes’s (Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior) screenplay lacks substance. I was particularly peeved by the fact that the movie never delves into the emotional trauma suffered by the grieving couple. Thankfully, the film’s undeniable technical finesse more than makes up for a weak script.
It’s hard not to be impressed by the work of Oscar-winning cinematographer Dean Semler (Dances with Wolves) and/or editor Richard Francis-Bruce (The Shawshank Redemption). Dead Calm, mostly shot near the gorgeous Whitsunday Islands located off the east coast of Australia, looks stunningly beautiful, and the story’s pace is exemplary — it’s hard to resist such a visually appealing movie.
Dead Calm is essentially a chamber piece at sea and the three main actors meet the challenge with flying colors. This was my introduction to Nicole Kidman. I had seen both Sam Neill and Billy Zane perform in other movies (I’ve always liked them) but Kidman was a new face. I instantly fell in love with her.
Kidman couldn’t have found a better vehicle to introduce her to American audiences if she had tried. The role of the heart-broken wife requires her to be both vulnerable and strong, and Kidman conveys those characteristics and then some. It doesn’t hurt that she looks fabulous with or without makeup. Neill and Zane are excellent too.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
Dead Calm did just okay at the box office. It’s one of those movies that found its audience at the video rental store. The script may not be as snazzy as its visuals, but this highly entertaining thriller has many intense and suspenseful situations. One interesting side note: In the 1960s, Orson Welles attempted to adapt the Charles Williams book but never finished the film due to lack of money. Color, 95 minutes, Rated R.