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Sleeping Dogs (1977)

This Kiwi film features a reclusive pacifist named Smith (Sam Neill) who is ripped from his hermit’s life on an idyllic Maori island and drawn into a revolutionary struggle between leftist guerillas and a fascist New Zealand government.

The rightist party have taken over as a result of a rigged shooting at a street demonstration in Auckland and the prime minister has called for a referendum to set up a dictatorship to fight “the communist forces and the senseless destruction to law and order”.

Overnight, a police state has been set up and a counter-revolutionary force of freedom fighters starts hitting back.

Recently separated from a cheating wife, Smith is framed by the revolutionary forces who hide a radio transmitter and a cache of arms at his home. Then he’s set up by the government and dragged off to Kafkaesque solitary confinement by the Special Police which offers him freedom if he confesses to his supposed revolutionary crimes or condemnation to a firing squad if he doesn’t.

Sam Neill brings a charm and intensity to his role, vividly bringing across the horror and helplessness of his situation as he’s made a pawn of both the secret police and the guerillas. American Warren Oates appears as a Vietnam veteran turned soldier of fortune.

This was the first New Zealand produced film to attain general release in the USA. Amazingly, the NZ army and air force cooperated as the heavies, supplying on-camera helicopters, rocket attacks and napalm for the production.

Sam Neill
Nevan Rowe
Ian Mune
Colonel Willoughby
Warren Oates
Ian Watkin
Clyde Scott
Donna Akersten
Bill Johnson
Don Selwyn
Davina Whitehouse
Melissa Donaldson
News Reader
Dougal Stevenson
Prime Minister
Bernard Kearns
Raf Irving
Cass Donaldson
Glorias Mother
Dorothy McKegg
Gloria’s Father
Tony Groser

Roger Donaldson