Thursday, January 20, 2005

Operation Travolta: Rutger Hauer

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.”

Rutger Hauer delivered those lines in 1982’s BLADE RUNNER, playing the fugitive replicant Roy Batty. His performance elevates the film from design masterpiece to stirring exploration of what it means to be human.

Hauer hasn’t had a role that powerful since. Some enterprising filmmaker should give him one.

He first came to the world’s attention in the films of Paul Verhoeven. My favorite of their collaborations is SOLDIER OF ORANGE (1979), a gripping saga of the Dutch resistance during WWII. I had the opportunity to see it on the big screen a few years ago. It deserves to be better known.

Like most European actors in Hollywood, Hauer was initially cast as a villain. The appearances are memorable: the angelic terrorist Wulfgar in one of Sylvester Stallone’s few good films, NIGHTHAWKS (1981), Batty in BLADE RUNNER, the title role in 1986’s THE HITCHER. Occasionally he got the opportunity to shine in heroic roles, as in LADYHAWKE. 1989’s BLIND FURY was an attempt to Americanize Japan’s long-running Zatoichi series. The film doesn’t work, but Hauer is magnetic in the lead.

After that, he drifted into low-budget action fare. Some of these movies aren’t bad. I confess a small degree of affection for the 1991 sci-fi drama DEADLOCK (aka WEDLOCK), in which Hauer and Joan Chen play prisoners linked by explosive collars. If either tries to escape, both collars detonate. His best work in the ‘90s came on HBO, where he starred in an adaptation of Robert Harris’ what-if-the-Nazis-won thriller FATHERLAND and the submarine drama HOSTILE WATERS.

After that, not much. Here are a few of his recent titles: FLYING VIRUS. JUNGLE JUICE. SCORCHER. At least he got to play the President in that one.

Then, in 2002, signs of a comeback. Hauer was cast as a dissipated East German spy in CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND. It was a small but meaty role, and Hauer made the most of it.

Christopher Nolan put him to work in BATMAN BEGINS, and he’s also in the adaptation of Frank Miller’s SIN CITY, which, if the trailer is any indication, is one of the must-see films of 2005.

But Hauer, who will be 61 on Sunday (and has his own website here), has more to offer than turns in comic book movies. Imagine him as an arms dealer, a relief worker, a jaded European living a Graham Greene life in a third world country.

Of course, Hollywood would have to be making movies about what’s happening right now in order to get him those parts. But a man can dream, can’t he?