Saturday, November 23, 2013

Help! Help! I'm Being Repressed!

Film: Sleeping Dogs
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

Sometimes I wonder what goes on in people’s heads. With a world of wonderful, meaningful, influential films to choose from the Listmakers opted to give us Sleeping Dogs. Why the hell would they put this film on The List? Where’s the importance of this film? Is it the fact that it was made in New Zealand? Or that it starred a very young Sam Neill? Or that it is yet another example of someone being hassled by the Man? Seriously, I’m coming with nothing here.

Sleeping Dogs makes a huge logical jump pretty close to the start. What we are given is that due to oil embargos and a series of political and social problems, New Zealand is standing on the brink of revolution and civil war. We’re given a further leap in that we are told to believe that the government of New Zealand reacts to this by adopting a collection of fascist policies and martial law and turning the country into a police state. Yeah.

Anyway, we don’t deal with this right away. Instead, we deal with Smith (Sam Neill), who is being kicked out of his house by his wife (Nevan Rowe) because of her affair with a man named Bullen (Ian Mune). Smith drives away and discovers an island off the coast that he decides he’d like to live on. He contacts the locals who own the island and bribes them with a bottle of whiskey. They give him a dog and a boat and allow him to take possession of the island. He lives there peacefully for some time and grows a massive beard and survives by gardening and fishing.

Out of nowhere, though, he is busted by the new military police, who believe he is guilty of causing an explosion on the mainland. They find a collection of weapons on the island—weapons that Smith was unaware of. He’s taken into custody and essentially told that he has a choice. He can either admit to everything and he’ll be deported or he can await trial, be convicted (he’s told it’s a guarantee), and executed. Smith takes the third option. During a transfer, he forces himself to vomit on one of the guards and escapes during the distraction.

Smith runs away and finds himself at a motel doing odd jobs and surviving outside of the impending civil war. Things change when a detachment of the U.S. military shows up at the motel, taking it over. This military group has been called in by the New Zealand government to help suppress the rebels, and now suddenly Smith is in mortal danger. The leader of this group (Warren Oates) slowly begins to suspect Smith of being a rebel sympathizer. Eventually Bullen shows up again, and suddenly he is one of the major players in the underground resistance movement.

Bullen’s presence and his relationship pull smith back into the resistance movement and is at least a spectator of a firefight. When the rebels run, Smith goes with them, and is forced into close proximity with the man who stole his wife. The two spend the rest of the film running away from everyone who is chasing them.

You know what? I watched this movie about a week and a half ago. It was called Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, and while it didn’t have as high of production values as Sleeping Dogs, it was a hell of a lot more interesting and a hell of a lot more fun. It also forced me into far fewer logical leaps and necessary moments of willing suspension of disbelief. The story was more coherent, too.

I cannot for the life of me fathom why this film was deemed so important that it had to be here and I had to spend time watching it. We still don’t have modern classics like 28 Days Later, we still have nothing involving the work of Ray Harryhausen, and my own beloved Inherit the Wind is still nowhere to be found. To compare it to something else that was added in the latest round, this is Wake in Fright with less tension, less insanity, and no murdered kangaroos.

I won’t even go so far as to say that Sleeping Dogs is a bad film. It’s just not a very good one, and it has no purpose being anywhere close to this list of important films. I could (and will next month) suggest several dozen films that have more value here than does this one. Watch it only if you have to.

Why to watch Sleeping Dogs: Same Neill before he was Sam Neill.
Why not to watch: Because it’s mostly shitty.


  1. Once again I'm right there with you on this one. I'm pretty sure it was picked because the book claims it was the first New Zealand film to be widely popular in the U.S. I don't buy that because I literally never even heard of it before it was added to the list.

    And good luck with Elephant next. At least you've got The Last Picture Show to bounce back with.


    1. As it happens, I found a copy of Elephant for a couple of bucks at a used DVD store, and found The Last Picture Show in a closing Blockbuster, so I have both films.

      It feels strange to be this close to the end, like I won't know what to do with myself.

  2. Before I read your review, Steve, I stared and stared at the picture you provided, trying to figure out who the actor was. My first guess was Dennis Quaid, but something didn't seem quite right. I eventually figured out it was Sam Neill, but that took a few tries. Then I read your review and—voilà. Sam Neill, indeed.

    The only Enn-Zed film (we're not counting LOTR as NZ, are we? although it may be, at that...) with which I'm truly familiar is "Once Were Warriors." Fantastic, tragic movie. And I know Sam Neill primarily for his work in American film: "Jurassic Park," "The Hunt for Red October," "Event Horizon," the TV series "Amerika," that oddball comedy with Chevy Chase...

    1. I'm torn on what to call LotR in terms of national origin. For me, a lot rides on not where something is filmed (I'd be hard-pressed to call Life of Brian a Tunisian film) but where the director is from and where the money is from.

      I'd have thought you'd be familiar with Whale Rider, though. And you should really hunt down The Quiet Earth. The effects are bad, but I think you'd dig the story.

    2. I second Whale Rider. I'll also toss in two other Peter Jackson works... Braindead/Dead Alive and Heavenly Creatures (the latter of which I have not seen but have heard great things). All NZ flicks.

    3. I forgot about Heavenly Creatures. It's a disturbing film, but a beautiful one.

    4. I'll add a third for Whale Rider. I really love that film. And I agree on Once Were Warriors. It's a powerful film. Both would make great representations for New Zealand on the list.

      As for The Lord of the Rings: it's obviously a Middle-Earth production. Duh. :-)

    5. Those elves are great camera people!

  3. Sleeping Dogs is currently available on Amazon Prime and I watched it a couple of nights ago.

    It reminded me of an episode of Land of the Giants … but without the little people.

  4. Those were exactly my thoughts. Of all the excellent and interesting movies, they decided to add this one?! Completely agree with your assessment.

    1. I don't understand a lot of the thinking--it's exactly why I nominate 10 at the end of every year.