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Updated: Feb 24, 2023

Phillip Noyce is an excellent director of action set-pieces but from the main cast of thee only Sam Neill gives a convincing performance.

I always remembered Dead Calm, which I last saw about 25 years ago, as a taut, claustrophobic thriller with distinct Hitchcockian overtones, heavily influenced by the works of Patricia Highsmith. But after a recent rewatch I now must conclude that the film - despite some unmistakable virtues - doesn't provide quite the thrill ride it could have done.

Let's get the good stuff out of the way first: Phillip Noyce is an excellent director of action set-pieces, even if his only arena is a boat on the ocean, and the cinematography by Dean Semler brings out suspense in places you might not necessarily expect.

From a main cast of just three players only Sam Neill leaves a truly convincing impression. Billy Zane makes for an antagonist who isn't nearly menacing enough, while Nicole Kidman is stuck with a woefully underwritten role, that most gratingly never allows her to explore a first act tragedy with lasting effect.

So if you expect some diverting but emotionally light entertainment Dead Calm mostly delivers - including a hoot of a final scene - but those hoping for more are better off with the real deal: Hitchcock and Highsmith.

release: 1989

director: Phillip Noyce

starring: Sam Neill, Nicole Kidman, Billy Zahn


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