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on September 30, 2000
What do you get when you mix in an amazing Australian director, a rising Australian actress, a prominent New Zealander actor, and a villainous American actor? The result is "Dead Calm," an intense thriller that will leave you adrift in suspense for 90 minutes.
The story, which revolves around an Australian couple taking a vacation to recover from the death of their young child in an automobile accident, might sound like the perfect movie to relax to on any evening, however it isn't. While sailing Australia's Great Barrier Reef and the South Pacific, the young couple played by Nicole Kidman ("Days of Glory"; "Batman Forever") and Sam Neill ("Renaissance Man"; "Jurassic Park") pick up a castaway played by Billy Zane ("Titanic"; "Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight") who is the sole survivor of a sinking ship.
After hearing his story Neill's character decides to go to the ship and check it out firsthand. That was his big mistake. Soon Zane hijacks the yacht and Kidman, leaving Neill to sink in the ship he fled. The sinister motives for Zane's departure from the ship are later discovered as the movie progresses, however it is Kidman's and Zane's chemistry and performance that make this movie one of the best suspense thrillers I have ever seen.
As usual, Zane, is the ideal villain. I wouldn't be surprised if it was this film that led to Hollywood's decision to cast him as a villain in almost every film he has done since "Dead Calm". He was brilliant in "Titanic", and the most sinister and witty horror villain since Freddy Kruegger in "Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight" However, his performance as the deranged castaway in this film mixes his ability to use his intense sex appeal with his professionalism to the fullest extent.
Director Philip Noyce ("U2: Rattle & Hum") happens to be one of Australia's most gifted actors. Along with Stephen Norrington ("Blade") these gifted Australian directors give Hollywood a new reason to head "Down Under" when searching for top-notched directors for their films.
"Dead Calm" represents Australia's prominence in world cinema when it comes to intelligent thrillers produced at half the costs associated with a major Hollywood Thriller nowadays. If you're looking for an intense thriller, you've found it.
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on May 11, 2002
When Dead Calm's promotional editor warns you to "Try to Stay Calm," believe me when I say you're not up to the challenge. If this one doesn't shock you, you better get your girlfriend to check your pulse.
The story is simple: Nicole Kidman and Sam Neill hit the ocean for some quality time together to forget the auto accident that claimed their only child. Kidman is barely there at first--she was driving when their son was killed and suffers from overpowering sorrow and guilt. When the couple floats up on a disabled ship with only one surviving passenger--Billy Zane--they take him aboard, unaware that they've just taken in an angel of death. From this point on the terror mounts relentlessly as Kidman and Neill struggle to deal with Zane and the hellfire he brings with him. Eventually separated, the husband and wife must dig deep within themselves just to stay alive.
The great cast makes what could have been a routine B-movie work. Kidman is particularly outstanding as the emotionally vampirized young wife who slowly evolves into a strong woman who can rescue her man when she needs to. Neill, one of the industry's most underrated performers, is stalwart and professional as always. Zane gives Anthony Perkins a run for his money as the psychotic young man who can only destroy what he doesn't understand--everything.
A marvelous dish of cold chills, Dead Calm is highly recommended to anyone who loves a good, intelligent scare.
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on April 11, 2002
I could go on and on about this one. One could theorize that the whole movie is actually a product of Kidman's mind. One could bring up the fact that the couple has sailed out to the metaphorical calm waters to get away from the insanity of the things that have happened in their life only to have insanity come rowing a boat out to meet them and now they (specifically her) must learn to deal with that insanity. That's getting a little deep, so I'll stick to what I know.
Kidman and Neill are trying to get over the tragic loss of their child by sailing out to the middle of nowhere to get away from things. They run across a sinking schooner which has only one survivor (Zane). He rows out to them and climbs aboard. Neill, out of curiosity, rows over to the sinking ship to find out what happened. This leaves Zane and Kidman on the boat...alone. I think what I wrote about accepting the insanity is pretty accurate as Kidman, in order to survive, feigns a relationship with Zane when she realizes that her life is in danger. Neill discovers what really happened on that boat and most of his story becomes trying to catch up with Zane and Kidman.
Metaphors aside, this is a good movie. The screenplay is taught. There are no scenes where you think to yourself that this is totally unnecessary. Everything establishes character or advances a situation. Neill's desperate struggle to get to the boat and his resourcefulness are real highlights.
The DVD doesn't really add too much, but I still recommend it for those who care about the quality of picture. It looks awesome on HDTV.
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on March 25, 2002
I'm like a lot of people in that I first discovered Nicole Kidman when I caught this gripping Australian thriller on cable. Though I had initially low expectations for both the film and the actress, both delivered the goods and then some. Dead Calm is that rarity amongst thrillers -- a suspenseful, scary film that actually engages the viewer and sticks in the mind after the final credits role.
The plot is admirably simple and straight forward. Sam Niell and Nicole Kidman play a married couple mourning the death of their son (who dies in the film's first few minutes -- though you can see the development coming miles away, both the direction of Phillip Noyce and the performances of Neill and Kidman make the death into a realistic tragedy as opposed to a mere plot device). Looking to escape their grief and save their marriage, they board their sailboat (Neill's character is a Naval officer) and take a vacation from society. After a few days at sea, they pick up a desperate castaway (Billy Zane) who claims to be escaping from a disease-stricken pleasure cruise...
This is a film that works despite of, rather than because, of its plot. Many of the character's actions don't make much logical sense...
In the hands of a lesser cast or director, these flaws would certainly have meant the death of any other film. However, the talent here is all top notch. Phillip Noyce manages to emphasize how isolated his characters are without making the film itself feel overly stagy; the viewer feels the story's claustrophobia without ever feeling cramped themselves. The film's cast does a wonderful job of bringing their characters to life, despite the inconsitencies inherent in the plot. All of them are familiar enough faces that the audience feels like they know them even as the fast-paced plot unfolds but none of them are such huge stars that they seem impervious to harm. Sam Neill, of course, has made a career of playing well-meaning, upright men who have to prove themselves stronger than they might actually appear and he does an excellent job in this film. Billy Zane has always had a rather irreverent attitude to his film work and while that has kept him from becoming a major star, it makes him perfect as the film's villian. With his jittery nervousness, Zane manages to make the audience laugh without ever making his character seem to be less of a threat. It is perhaps the ultimate compliment that a film psycho can be given in that the audience enjoys his time on screen and are just as happy once he's gone.
However, the film truly belongs to Nicole Kidman. Whether her character is being petulant and casually flirtatious or terrified and victimized or finally displaying an unexpected iron-clad will as she battles with Zane, Kidman is never less than riveting. Her character is a difficult one and not all of her actions add up but, through Kidman's fascinating and magnetic performance, none of that matters. After years of being overshadowed by her marriage to Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman has only recently been acknowledged as a talented actress and radiant star in her own right. Those of us who were lucky enough to see her in Dead Calm -- years before she became Mrs. Tom Cruise -- already knew that.
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on April 22, 2000
From the opening credits with that haunting music, to the tragic car accident scene, to the first scenes on the open sea (only 4 minutes in), all the way to the end, this movie is GREAT! There is no other movie that will keep you on the edge of your seat. The three person cast is amazingly talented. You feel trapped and scared with John Ingram (Sam Neill) as he tries to escape the bows of a sinking ship and get to his wife. You feel the hopelessness of Rae Ingram (Nicole Kidman) trapped with a madman and find yourself yelling "Yes! That's right! Go! Go!" as her quick witted mind begins to work as she attempts many different ways of defending herself. And it is understandable why she won't kill the captor, for after the death of her son, I think that she finds killing a last resort and will do anything not to have to kill a person. And as Hughie Warner, you can tell that Billy Zane is having soooo much fun with his crazed role.
On top of all that the boat, Sarascen, is really cool. Plus, throw in a heart pounding scene as Rae fights Hughie inside the boat during a huge storm, a heart wrenching demise to the family dog, a handful of sleeping pills, and one too many flares, there you have one awesome thriller.
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on February 15, 2000
It must be quite a challenge, to make a movie with only three real characters that can still hold the attention of the audience. Philip Noyce has actually made it work. Right from the beginning Neill, Kidman and Zane manage to keep the viewer bound to his television. The story keeps up an admirable pace and the characters truly come to life. Zane as a lunatic seems at first to be overplaying his part, but in the end you can believe he is totally crazy. Neill and Kidman as the married couple out for a cruise that get stuck with the maniac killer manage to convey a true affection for each other despite the recent shock to their relationship. My only objection is the end. I know, that cinematic psycho's are nearly indestructible, but the way Billy Zane, seriously injured several times, manages to keep on coming is suspending disbelieve a little too far.
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Released in 1989, this low-budget film is remarkable for several reasons. Most obviously, it was Nicole Kidman's first leading role, which she handles brilliantly. At 20, we can already see the star quality and intensity of concentration that distinguishes much of her later work. As Rae Ingram, she hits so many levels from adoring wife to loving and then grieving mother, seductress, warrior, and survivor. The special effects at the beginning of the movie where the child is flung through the windshield, while emotionally unpleasant, are well executed. As the plot mechanism which leads John & Rae into the dead calm cruise, what follows with the struggle with Hughie Warriner effectively puts the grieving out of mind. Sam Neill as John Ingram does a great job of playing the loving husband, grieving father, and skilled naval officer who winds up stranded on a sinking boat and must use hits wits & skill to survive. Billy Zane as Hughie seems to enjoy letting loose as the crazed killer on the high seas. Australian director Phillip Noyce would later go on to make several big-budget features with Harrison Ford, "Clear & Present Danger" & "Patriot Games." "Dead Calm" was the feature that first got Hollywood's attention for him. He does an amazingly masterful job of crafting an intense, sometimes too intense, experience on the boat that not only holds our attention but rivets us to the outcome. As I see the ads for the "Survivor" series on television, this film is kind of like the original "survivor" with Kidman being the million-dollar winner. Last but not least, the dog is a real character in the piece and one of the cutest of canines. "Dead Calm" is amazing because they accomplished so much with so little. When Zane's head finally lights up at the end, we breathe the final sigh of relief. U snooze, U lose with this diamond in the rough. Enjoy!
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on June 19, 2000
I had always wanted to see Dead Calm but for some reason never got around to it. Having seen it just this past weekend, I can attest that it is a well made and suspensful film, all the more that the story revolves around only three people, as opposed to other films of the genre filled with cast members whose only purpose is to be killed and provide a high body count. The cast is uniformly good, though I think Jason Patric might have also been a good choice for Hughie. I agree with other reviewers about the formulaic ending, but hey, there are rules dammit! The psycho killer always comes back for more!
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on November 5, 2003
I watched this movie on cable on one of the less popular movie channels, and was pleasantly surprised to find it such a good one. Nicole Kidman was obviously somewhere at the beginning of her Hollywood career when she acted in this. She is refreshingly simple in her appearance, and her acting is superb - she is so expressive and she looked every bit the part for each scene she's playing. I can see why Hollywood decided to make her a megastar after performances like this.
All 3 of them - Nicole Kidman, Billy Zane and Sam Neill were all fantastic actors in this film, which is also why this movie succeeds in being such a good suspense thriller. Its not too long a movie, and you can be sure you'll be holding on to your seat throughout the whole thing!
Billy Zane isn't always at his best in all the movies he acts in - those of you who've seen him in other movies would know this by now - but in this gem of a movie, he really shines as an ultra-convincing psycho. He didn't overact or overplay his role and that's what made him so believable as the charismatic, charming but unpredictably mentally-twisted person his character is. Strange that I've always liked Billy Zane as an actor even though its so difficult to find him in a good movie nowadays... this is one movie I will never forget because of its great storyline, great acting, and its unique setting where almost everything takes place on a yacht drifting and drifting along in the sea... its all very nice.
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on March 29, 2014
Dead Calm 1988
Director:Phillip Noyce
Written by: Terry Hayes
Produced by: Dean Semler
Music: Graeme Revell
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Sam Neil, Billy Zane

This is a 1988 version of Tony Hayes psychological thriller. There was an earlier attempt of this film that was never completed. All things considered it remains an intense piece of work. The story starts in an Australia train station with John Ingram (Sam Neil) an Australian naval captain told by the police his wife has been in an accident and later at the hospital he is told his son went through the window in a head on collision along a high speed expressway. Horrible things sometimes happen, but I disagree with following decisions to deal with John's son's death by going on an extended South sea cruise. A south sea cruise is not so easy. Rae is understandably crushed and needs a long recovery. She is on medication part of the time and probably knows of the damage to her dead son's face. A woman who has been through this will be years recovering and overwhelmed with guilt. Is sailing an 80 foot Ketch on the Pacific Ocean the solution? Anyone who has sailed the Pacific like I have knows you need to be well braced with your wits about you. You need the competence to read charts, handle gear, take watch, manage the radio, maintain a very large boat, and a hundred things to be careful about: flat ocean or rough. This includes keeping an eye for pirates! I would lobby to leave the child's death out. Let John and Rae start with a good life and let that provide the impact polarization for what eventually happens. Leave it out! This particular audience is grieving this boys death for the whole movie:. Whatever happens in this movie John and Rae will suffer on and on in this cut. Following that though I have very few complaints about this one. Once out to sea they run into a black schooner with a man urgently rowing toward their boat. John's seamanship aboard the beautiful well rigged Saracen is very impressive here as he hails the schooner, taking notes and positions in his log. In fact John's seamanship is a key feature in the film and the film's out come. After taking the panicky Warriner on board John doesn't believe a word of Hughie's story. But John fails to use his radio to call for help. He just suspects trouble and takes a huge risk. Instead he puts Hughie to bed and leaves Rae with him while he rows to the haunting Orpheus. Inside panic breaks loose when he finds many bodies some decapitated in one of the companionways. John frantically rows back to Rae but never makes it as Hughie beats Rae unconscious and motors off with Rae towards the horizon. What follows is a real struggle for all three characters. I think the remainder of the story is well told. Rae shows her strength as a tough woman with superior knowledge of her boat and smarter than the winged out Hughie. Hughie is somewhere between PTSD and psychotic. He seems completely lost and convinced he is on an ocean cruise with beautiful woman listening to blues slide guitar.
John shows his cunning again by getting the old bucket Orpheus running in a plethora of rising water. The video tape coming live with the ships engines is a good way to tell the tale of Hughie's struggles and gives a hint of how he came to lose is mind. John gets trapped by a collapsed boom imprisoning him in the cabin of Orpheas. This is one of the most frightening moments of Dead Calm. John appears hopelessly trapped with no chance of escape, but more good seamanship gets him out of trouble. There is some very effective sailing near the end that reveals again Rae can be counted on in a storm. It also shows for the first time in the film the beauty of sailing. Finally the sailboat out of fuel gets put underway by Rae. There is excellent music in this movie (Graeme Revell) with powerful drums and color atura, which make the movie worth watching intrinsically. Rae and John eventually take out Hughie with a flare to finish a good story. Just one small request. Never tie up an insane pirate sharing your boat. Over the side! GJ
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