April 21, 2018

SLEEPING DOGS (1977) Has Awakened...On Blu-Ray

Starring Sam Neill, Ian Mune, Nevan Rowe, Ian Watkin, Warren Oates, Donna Akersten, Clyde Scott, Snuffles the dog. Directed by Roger Donaldson. (1977/107 min).

Available on Blu-Ray from 

Review by Fluffy the Fearless😸

Sleeping Dogs is notable for a few reasons. It was the first feature film entirely made and financed by New Zealand to have any significant global impact. More importantly, it put Sam Neill and director Roger Donaldson on the map.

While both men would obviously go on to bigger and better things, Sleeping Dogs is more than a fascinating curio. It's an intense, harrowing journey taken by a fiercely reluctant everyman, Smith (Neill), who we first meet just as he's leaving his wife, Gloria (Nevan Rowe). She's been cheating on him with Bullen (Ian Mune), and though the film doesn't explicitly say so, we get the feeling Smith & Bullen were once friends. Meanwhile, the entire country is in a state of political upheaval when an oil embargo turns New Zealand's fascist government against its own people, resulting in violent protests from a growing guerrilla movement.

Sam Neill...feelin' groovy.
Wanting to escape everything and everybody, Smith leaves the city, rents a remote island and lives there with his dog. Things are idyllic for awhile, until the police show up and arrest Smith on an illegal weapons charge; a lot of guns & explosives had been stashed on the island by guerrillas and they suspect Smith is one of the ringleaders. One officer, an old school acquaintance, offers Smith the opportunity to leave the country a free man if he confesses, otherwise he'll be executed. Instead, Smith escapes, managing to lay low for awhile, at least until Bullen shows up. It turns out he and Gloria are part of the guerrilla movement and need Smith's help eliminating US soldiers recruited to assist the government. Now that Smith is the most wanted man in New Zealand, he really has no choice and gets in deeper than he ever wanted to.

What's interesting is the change Smith undergoes during the film. It's quickly obvious he's been manipulated - and set-up - almost from the get-go, by both the police and those close to him. But since circumstances are well beyond his control, he's slowly becoming the revolutionary the government are trying to paint him as. Sam Neill is convincing as Smith, desperately clinging to the simpler life he forged for himself and growing increasingly resentful over being thrust into a conflict he wants no part of, yet is compelled to fight anyway. In his first feature film, Roger Donaldson does an commendable job balancing character conflict and intense action, particularly during the second half, when the Smith and Bullen are on the run with the police closing in. Their mostly-antagonistic relationship later becomes the film's emotional high-point.

Reversible cover includes original artwork.
Atypical of most Arrow releases, this Blu-Ray is fairly light on bonus features and none of it is new, though the hour-long retrospective documentary from 2004 is a must-see. It combines new and vintage footage, as well as interviews with dozens of people from both sides of the camera. Especially engaging is the footage where Donaldson, Neill, Mune and FX artist Geoff Murphy (later a successful director himself) revisit many of the film's locations nearly 30 years later. Even if one doesn't necessarily like Sleeping Dogs, the effort it took to get it made during that time will surely make one at-least appreciate it.

"THE MAKING OF SLEEPING DOGS" (2004) - Of the two, this is longer and more entertaining.
AUDIO COMMENTARY - By Roger Donaldson, Sam Neill and Ian Munes (who also co-wrote the film).
REVERSIBLE COVER ART - Featuring new and vintage artwork (see above)


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