Sleeping Dogs

Sleeping Dogs (Roger Donaldson, 1977) wr. Christian K. Stead (novel Smith's Dream - as 'Karl Stead'), Ian Mune, Arthur Baysting, prod. Roger Donaldson, Larry Parr, dp Michael Seresin, gaffer Alun Bollinger; Sam Neill, Warren Oates, Nevan Rowe, Ian Mune; NZ

Maybe the title of Roger Donaldson’s 1977 film should have given me a hint to let it lie.  But no, I spent much of one afternoon watching the damn thing (on videotape!).  Apparently, it has the distinction of being the first feature film shot in NZ on 35mm.  I first heard of it from A Cinema of Unease: A Century of New Zealand Cinema (1996), presented by Sam Neill, who is the star (of SD).  You can buy it in the 'Roger Donaldson Collection', with Smash Palace, but only in Region 1.
As it's a Kiwi fillum, there has to be a moment when men spend quality time with sheep: Sam Neill and actor/writer/director Ian Mune.

One of the points I want to make here (possibly again) is about the many Australasian films I keep coming across which are only available on DVD in the USA.  Why aren’t they supported (ie available because bought) here?  OK, I know what you’re thinking: they’re not very good.  But if so, why is there a market for them in Region 1?  Because Americans have worse taste?  Of course not.  I leave the question open.

... a fast-paced politcal thriller/action/buddy movie. Street riots, chases, napalm, rocket attack, Skyhawk aerobatics, phallic guns and fickle women provide the framework for Smith's emotional journey, involving some mistaken identity and much coindicence, where marriage and society remain in tatters, but mateship is joyously reaffirmed. ... It is recognised as the film that marked the beginning of contemporary New Zealand cinema. Its success was followed by the announcement of the establishment of an Interim Film Commission. Helen Martin, in Helen Martin & Sam Edwards 1997, New Zealand Film 1912-1996, OUP, Auckland: 64.

Roger Donaldson's Sleeping Dogs, from New Zealand, is a very well made and acted movie about a time in the near future when New Zealand goes into a state of martial law, and underground groups form to fight against the dictatorship. Donaldson uses precise details of Hitler's takeover of Germany and plugs them into the New Zealand setting, and then he gives us a hero who wants to sit the fight out and is publicized by the government into being a symbol of opposition.
American troops are sent in to help the New Zealanders put down the 'rebellion', and the rebels conduct a running guerilla battle against them. Roger Ebert.

Noteworthy mainly for its rarity (at the time) as a New Zealand feature, and for a brief cameo as a US military 'adviser' by Warren Oates, this formulary political action-thriller rests on a less than intriguing paradox: to emphasise the realism and spectacle of his tale of a totalitarian government beefing up its power through anti- terrorist legislation (and devoting most of its energies to hunting a back-to-nature innocent), Donaldson enlists and prominently displays the cooperation of no less than the NZ Air Force. Subversive, eh? Time Out.


Garry Gillard | New: 10 February, 2017 | Now: 3 March, 2017