An Australian couple take a sailing trip in the Pacific to forget about a terrible accident. While on the open sea, in dead calm, they come across a ship with one survivor who is not at all what he seems.
Stay calm and you may yet not end up dead.
Dead Calm is directed by Phillip Noyce and adapted to screenplay by Terry Hayes from the novel of the same name written by Charles Williams. It stars Sam Neill, Nicole Kidman and Billy Zane. Music is by Graeme Revell and cinematography by Dean Semler.
After losing their young son in a car accident, John (Neill) and Rae Ingram (Kidman) head out alone on their yacht for an ocean vacation. Whilst taking in some R&R, the couple spy a ship drifting in the distance, then a man in a dinghy hurriedly rows towards them. He boards their yacht, frantic and panicked, he tells them the ship is sinking and that all on board are dead, killed by food poisoning. His name is Hughie Warriner (Billy Zane), and the Ingram's are about to wish they had never met him....
The Saracen and The Orpheus.
It's so refreshing to find a thriller that works without tricks or elaborate plotting, where the narrative is stripped down to the bare bones and played out purely by three characters. Dead Calm, whilst not exactly the most credible of thrillers from the 80s, contains genuine suspense, a pot boiling heart and production value of some distinction. Director Noyce deals in psychological studies, primarily that of a lunatic and that of a woman beset with grief having to use her mental fortitude to hopefully save herself and her husband.
Noyce and his team get the maximum amount of edge of the seat thrills from a small isolated yacht in the middle of a vast ocean, with tight camera work and nifty editing, it's a film of quality that belies its pared back production. Even ace Aussie photographer Semler (previously Mad Max 2/Razorback, latterly Dances With Wolves/Waterworld) creates beauty out of such a sparse set up, where the blues and greens of the ocean warm the soul and the red sunsets please the eyes. They be glimpses of Mother Earth that give the Ingram's something tangible to fight for.
With the plot requiring Neill to be in his own isolated hell, he turns in a more measured performance, perfect in fact, but it's Zane and Kidman who steal the show. This would prove to be the launching point of Kidman's career, and it hints at the top actress she would become. She gives Rae Ingram a real strength through adversity, with energy in abundance, intelligence and a simmering sexuality, she's a lady character earning respect by film lovers because of Kidman's performance. Zane is suitably edgy, very much giving Hughie a man-child persona, he too exudes a dangerous sexuality, and when it inevitably kicks off, he is scary into the bargain.
A couple of daft character decisions within the story, and a WTF finale, stop it from being near the top of the thriller movie pantheon. But it's not far off from sitting with the best and it remains fresh and entertaining as the decades roll by. 8/10
Perfect example of why you should check out all the movies that doggy paddled away with an average 3/5 or 6/10 or whatever. For a large minority, it's not that they're simply average; it's that they were barely given a chance