Jurassic World: Dominion saw Alan Grant finally go off into the sunset with friends old and new, marking (likely) the last time Sam Neill will play the most famous role of his career. But Grant is just the tip of the iceberg for Neill, a character actor who has many classics under his belt.
Beginning his career in the midst of Australia’s New Wave in the mid-1970s, Neill has spent the past half-century becoming one of New Zealand’s most celebrated actors of his generation, excelling in everything from horror films dark and psychological to light family comedies. And, of course, a few dinosaur movies.
Sleeping Dogs (1977)
The first major performance of Neill’s career came in 1977 sleeping dogs, a New Zealand thriller from director Roger Donaldson. The film follows Neill as a divorced hermit living in isolation with his dog until political tensions force him to choose sides in an escalating guerrilla war.
As he becomes increasingly ensnared in a web of interpersonal and geopolitical conflict, Neill portrays his ordinary protagonist with fascinating complexity, allowing audiences to question his true motives even as he acts self-deprecatingly. saying altruistic. In the film’s final moments, you’re just as caught up in the confusion of revolution as he is, which makes sleeping dogs one of the great films of the Australian New Wave.
Andrzej Zulawski’s dark horror masterpiece centers on the deteriorating relationship between a husband and wife (Neill and the unforgettable Isabelle Adjani, respectively) as she seems to go mad in ways more weirder and more dangerous. Adjani deservedly won Best Actress at Cannes for her bravery performance, but Neill is just as powerful as the straight man for her extreme outbursts.
The production was grueling for Neill and Adjani (who took several years to recover from the experience), but the resulting film remains as powerful and unsettling today as it was in 1981. After a restoration recent, Possession is enjoying a bit of a renaissance and should be mandatory for any fan of the modern prestige horror movement.
A Cry in the Dark (1988)
A scream in the darkalso known as evil angels, is best known for Maryl Streep’s iconic performance and the oft-parodied phrase “a dingo ate my baby.” Although Streep is his typically magnetic self, Neill is just as powerful, if not as histrionic.
As her grieving husband attempts to logically analyze a situation spiraling out of control, Neill deploys his signature stability as a counterpoint to Streep’s manic denouement. Even though his faith falters and he begins to abandon his wife and the truth they both knew, Neill still manages to be sympathetic in his portrayal of a man who is slowly losing everything.
The Hunt for Red October (1990)
John McTiernan’s Cold War classic The Hunt for Red October does not lack excellent performance. From Sean Connery in the lead, to government bureaucrat James Earl Jones, every actor is working at the peak of their powers.
But Sam Neill’s gently naïve Captain Vasily Borodin offers the most pathos. As one of the Soviet defectors alongside Connery, Neill receives two of the film’s most memorable and bittersweet scenes: a monologue imagining his new life in Montana and the moment that dream is taken away.
The Piano (1993)
Jane Campion’s smash hit remains one of the most romantic films of all time, with A+ performances from Holly Hunter, Anna Paquin, Harvey Keitel and Neill as strangers forcefully creating a life in the jungle. Australian. While those first three are really the stars of the show, Neill is powerful and at times even likable as the movie’s villain.
Playing the imaginatively challenging husband of the fiery heroine played by Hunter, Neill brings real complexity to his purely antagonistic role. As every kindness is soon followed by cruel punishment, audiences can’t help but feel sadness for a man who is lost in his own life and doesn’t know how to manifest the strength that comes so easily to those who surround it.
In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
John Carpenter is widely known for his 70s and 80s classics, but In the mouth of madness is one of his lesser known masterpieces. Playing on the themes of novelists like HP Lovecraft and Stephen King, Carpenter ended his so-called “Apocalypse Trilogy” with a poignant tale of fandom and madness, with Sam Neill perfectly cast as the film’s protagonist.
Playing an insurance investigator investigating the disappearance of a King-esque superstar novelist, Neill portrays the classic non-believer’s descent into madness with absolute conviction, worthy of the best episodes of Twilight Zone while retaining Caprpetner’s flair. for the extreme, landing on one of the finest final images of the director’s career.
Event Horizon (1997)
Widely derided at the time, Paul W.S. Anderson’s space horror film Event horizon has developed a cult following over the years, thanks in large part to Neill’s lopsided performance. The film centers on an interstellar crew who stumble upon a long-lost ship orbiting Neptune, only to find that the ship has breached the space-time continuum and allowed evil forces to enter our dimension.
The movie itself is as silly and maximalist as its premise suggests, but it’s saved by Neill as the designer of the lost ship and eventual host to a demonic entity that hopes to destroy the movie’s heroes. Just as he did in In the mouth of madness before, Neill excels at transitioning from stable intellectual to dangerous psychopath, giving this ’90s B-movie the juice it needs to stay in the public consciousness.
The Dish (2000)
This understated comedy is one of the most popular films of modern Australian cinema. Telling the little-known story of a small Australian village that becomes a crucial part of the memorable 1969 moon landing, Sam Neill is the lone star among a cavalcade of charming Australian character actors.
While the events of the film are certainly exaggerated, Neill and his comrades deliver a delightful little film that is emblematic of the genre of small town comedy Australia excels at, satirizing not just the perceived province of Australia, but also the American grandeur.
Dean Spanley (2008)
In one of screen legend Peter O’Toole’s final films, Neil plays the titular Dean Spanley, a bland, ordinary clergyman who turns out to be much stranger than he initially appeared. Specifically, he begins to reveal his past life as an impatient Welsh Spaniel.
Although the emotional core of the film rests with O’Toole and Jeremy Northam as father and son in dire need of reconciliation, Neill stands out. He brings a delightful austerity to each monologue and a fond recollection of his past life, providing a masterclass in ironic gravity.
Wild Peoples Hunt (2016)
Telling the story of an adopted child and his grumpy caretaker as they flee into the woods from the cruel bureaucracy of modern society, Taika Watiti firmly established the style in Wilderpeople Hunt this would lead him to reinvent Thor and satirize Hitler.
To play the cantankerous farmer/father figure, Watiti brought in Neill, who by this point became one of the most famous actors in New Zealand history. Unsurprisingly, Neill’s performance is spot on as he borrows elements from previous performances (notably the reluctant father figure in jurassic park) to create a rich character that audiences easily come to love.
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