Monday, August 1, 2011

Movie Web Monday: Dennis Quaid

Movie Web Monday: Each week, I'll look at a specific actor's roles across three good movies. The third movie will in turn tie into the first movie of the next week's actor, whose third movie will continue the pattern. I will go through actors and movies at this rate, with the following limitations in mind: every movie(or television show) invoked will be one I either own, or wish to own; no movie or actor will be invoked twice. So sit back and enjoy as you fall into the nerdery's movie web. (Oh, and I'll try to keep spoilers to a minimum, telling you just enough to know if you'll enjoy the movie)

Dennis Quaid: Deadly Daddy

Movie: Frequency (Own it)

As the father whose absence defines the movie's plot, Dennis Quaid has some pretty strict requirements in Frequency. He's got to fill an idealized but hubristic role as Francis Sullivan--he has to be a loving father and husband, who nonetheless indulges his vices enough that one or the other will in fact kill him. He does this well, immediately pouring all his Texan grinning charisma into his scenes as he commands the screen. The facile, friendly way he relates to his family isn't the real charm of Quaid's contribution to this film. It's the way he stubbornly characterizes real, bone-deep father/son sentiments with a terse bean-town accent. When he cheats death once, his future-lorn son insists that he be more careful with his life, to which Francis quickly replies:

It's such a small moment and is so particular to the paternal dynamic of the film that it's often missed by casual viewers. Fear of your own mortality is one thing, dealt with in a particular way that comes up often in life, but fear of orphaning your own child inspires a strong reaction that causes you to both deny your mortality and fear it with paralyzing anxiety. It's the sort of thing that makes you pledge unreasonable promises to always be there, and it drives you to make important life changes to try to fulfill the oath to always be there. As Francis, Dennis Quaid really sells the conflicted combination of reality and hopes with which a parent has to live, fulfilling the second essential element of this relational film.

Movie: Enemy Mine (Own it) Light Spoilers

Enemy Mine is a classic piece of sci-fi drama. A little-known 1985 film starring Dennis Quaid as Willis Davidge and Louis Gosset Jr. as Jeriba Shigan and directed by Wolfgang Petersen, Enemy Mine explores the commonality of the soul and the vile depths it can reach. Willis Davidge is a human space-fighter pilot who shoots down an enemy fighter over an unknown planet only to crash-land nearby as well. Davidge, who lost his friend and co-pilot in the crash, immediately goes hunting for the alien survivor of the enemy fighter. His narration, which has a fantastically detached and sober tone to contrast the fierce emotions that fill the movie, admits that this is his first time seeing a Drac, and he immediately sets a trap as part of his first close encounter. Pouring fuel into a pond the alien is swimming in and setting it ablaze, the enraged human crows:

There's a fierce, ugly hatred to the moment, but Quaid keeps it relatable. The tender death scene he'd just had with his co-pilot had a genuine, halting weight to it that informs the audience this is hatred from a place of pain and loss. He fails to defeat Jeriba, whom he dubs Jerry, and the two begrudgingly accept each other's company and help as they survive on a wild and strange world. This alien castaway story is challenging on a dramatic and human level, and both the stars do a great job of showing the psychological wear of the roles while also sprinkling some very down-to-earth humor throughout. Davidge eventually becomes something of a surrogate father to Jerry's son Zammis (don't worry, there's no reptiloid hanky-panky in this film--Dracs are asexual creatures, we're told). As that happens, Davidge begins to realize that the common elements between him and some of the Dracs are stronger and more heartfelt than the way he feels about a lot of his own people. It's touching and well-done, but it will leave you emotionally raw by the tear-jerking end. Watch it, as it is one of Quaid's finer roles--Gosset's, too--and it performs the best function of sci-fi: to enlighten and convict us of our capabilities and faults.

Movie: Dragonheart (Own it)

Dragonheart is a fun fantasy movie that feels a bit like it wanted to be a PG kids movie but realized that a PG-13 adventure fit the story better. In it, Quaid plays a once-idealistic knight named Bowen who has sworn to rid the world of dragons. This is a very personal act of vengeance for him, as he blames the corruption of his royal pupil Einon--now a murderous tyrant--on a specific dragon who saved the boy's life through the magic of the...wait for it...dragon heart. The film starts out playful but gets deadly serious quickly. After Einon is mortally wounded in a rebellion against his father's reign, the prince-cum-king begins building on his father's cruel legacy through slave labor and sport-killing peasants. Bowen charges in and wrestles the young king to the ground, reminding him of the virtues he'd try to instill in the boy:

Quaid's Bowen is gruffly earnest in the role, and there's a disconnect between the two in the first act that feels almost like a father washing his hands of his son. The movie follows Bowen twelve years later, where his blood-sport against all dragons has wiped out all but Draco--the dragon who'd innocently saved Einon's life in the first place. The first interaction between the two is decidedly campy and feels like a letdown from the movie's solid start, but it gears up into a decent climax that is somewhere south of Willow but still gratifying and well-realized. All of which is championed by Quaid's canny knack for playing someone who has a wounded sensitivity mingled with a killer instinct and a warrior's mindset. Must be a Texan thang.

Movie Web Monday will continue next week with a new actor, picking up with some other prolific player from the last movie listed above.

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