Today sees the DVD release of The Intruder, a new film in which Dennis Quaid plays the ex-owner of a house who doesn’t take too kindly to the new owners when he is forced to sell it. The psychological thriller was directed by Deon Taylor and written by David Loughery and gives Quaid the opportunity to terrify audiences with an intensity which marked out much of his best work. To that end Cai Ross looks back at some of his greatest roles.
For about 20 years, Dennis Quaid was Hollywood’s nearly-man. Following a break-out performance in Peter Yates’s wonderful cycling drama Breaking Away in 1979, it seemed that the world might just have found its new James Dean. Impressive performances in Walter Hill’s familial Western The Long Riders (alongside elder sibling Randy and a host of Keach and Carradine brothers) and Philip Kaufman’s epic space drama The Right Stuff, gave Hollywood notice that a major new talent was in town.
A lean, charismatic young actor with a six-pack you could play like a glockenspiel and a wide, lupine grin giving him the countenance of a living, breathing Tex Avery cartoon, Quaid was sexy, cocky and confident. His Texan upbringing tempered that with an easy-going unpretentious ‘good ole boy’ charm that audiences quickly warmed to.
Yet despite working pretty much constantly, often in highly regarded films, Dennis Quaid never quite found that one break-out part that sat him at the top table alongside Tom Hanks, Kevin Costner or Bruce Willis. Solid work in dramas like Suspect, the DOA remake, Everybody’s All American and Come See The Paradise somehow passed audiences by.
Leading roles in big budget misfires like Enemy Mine and nuclear-level stinkers like Jaws 3-D didn’t help matters either. The film that was predicted to put him finally on the A-list, 1989’s Great Balls of Fire wasn’t helped by the fact that Quaid was playing one of the most deeply unsympathetic and unsavoury characters in rock n’ roll – albeit playing him very well.
Heading into the 1990s, his ambitions to become the biggest star on the planet quickly waned, but the quality of his work as an actor went nowhere but up. The strutting rooster act vanished, but age now conferred upon him a sense of gravitas and world-weariness that saw several interesting parts come his way (Flesh and Bone and Any Given Sunday, especially).
Hitting his fifties in the new millennium, Quaid had built himself a reputation as a hard working, highly respected character actor. In 2002, he enjoyed the double-whammy of a Golden Globe nomination for his acclaimed work in Far From Heaven, and a genuine box office hit with the baseball drama The Rookie (which made a fortune, despite the risk of being confused with the diabolical Clint Eastwood film of the same name).
Not one to play the media game – much preferring to play golf or play with his band The Sharks – Quaid has always had something of an unknowable quality about him, a gift that adds layers of intrigue to his latest role as the increasingly unhinged Charlie, who makes life hell for the young couple who have unwisely bought his old house, in The Intruder.
Before you catch that nerve-jangling treat, here are a few highlights from Dennis Quaid’s long career.
The Big Easy (1986)
Quaid bubbled under the radar for most of the 1980s until this fantastic neo-noir from director Jim McBride gave him a shot at the big time. Quaid grabbed the opportunity with relish, infusing his rule-breaking, slightly bent but ultimately decent New Orleans detective Remy McSwain with no end of Deep Southern swagger.
A good cop in a barrel of bad ‘uns, his increasingly passionate relationship with the District Attorney who is investigating him (Ellen Barkin) culminates in the kind of incendiary sexual chemistry that all the money in the world can’t buy. In The Big Easy, Premiere Magazine wrote, ‘the vitality and energy that had been apparent earlier had now been harnessed, curried and buffed: he was, quite simply, irresistible.’
Joe Dante’s science fiction adventure might technically be categorised alongside Quaid’s other big-budget flops, failing to catch fire at the box office back in 1987. It’s meagre takings remain a source of mystery, since this was and remains one of the most entertaining family films of the 1980s.
In an updated riff on the Fantastic Voyage plot, Quaid’s Tuck Pendleton – Remy McSwain, Tuck Pendleton? He really did have to pull off some ridiculous character names didn’t he? – and his submersible pod are both miniaturised, so as to be injected into a rabbit as part of a science experiment. Following the intervention of boo-hiss baddies, Pendleton finds himself coursing through the veins of put-upon hypochondriac Martin Short.
Quaid holds everything together, somehow putting in a heroic performance despite spending most of the film sat encased in a metal pod. On a personal note, this is the film in which he met his second wife Meg Ryan but… well, let’s not dwell on that.
Wyatt Earp (1994)
Of all the showiest supporting roles out there, the showiest is probably John Henry “Doc” Holliday. In all of the westerns ever made about Wyatt Earp’s life and times, Holliday, the lugubrious, drunken gunslinging, tuberculosis-ridden dandy always, always steals the limelight away from the austere, measured Earp.
Perhaps aware of this, when he got the call to play opposite Kevin Costner’s infamous lawman in Lawrence Kasdan’s epic biography, Quaid went to hitherto unseen lengths to make the part his own, losing a ridiculous 43 pounds to give his Holliday a suitably skeletal, diseased appearance.
By rights, this should have been the part that scored him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar (he has yet to get a tap on the shoulder from The Academy). However, Kasdan’s stately, Encyclopaedia Brittanica vision of Wyatt Earp was trumped by Tombstone, the rollercoaster version with a quote-jukebox performance by Val Kilmer. However, the Costner version, like Quaid’s characterisation, is ripe for reappraisal.
By 2000, Quaid was still a headline star, with leading roles in films as diverse as Dragonheart and the rather wonderful Frequency, but he was increasingly coming into his own as a character actor, shining away in memorable supporting roles.
The amount of talent involved in Stephen Soderbergh’s Oscar-winning Traffic was staggering. Michael Douglas was the ship’s masthead, and Benicio Del Toro walked away with the trophies but Quaid dialled it down a few notches to memorable effect as Arnie Metzger, drug baron Carl Ayala’s quiet, serpentine, treacherous associate who ultimately makes the fatal mistake of underestimating Ayala’s wife, Catherine Zeta Jones.
Far From Heaven (2002)
Proving his versatility beyond any doubt, Quaid earned the strongest critical reviews of his career in this, Todd Haynes’s insightful look at racism and sexuality in 1950s America, which used brilliantly the Rockwellian imagery of Douglas Sirk’s famous melodramas like Imitation of Life as a false suburban front under which intense bigotry and denial thrives like knotweed.
Quaid played Frank, business executive and Julianne Moore’s stereotypically solid, dependable husband, whose life spirals into self loathing and alcoholism after she catches him kissing another man. The moment when he confesses that he is in love with another man, breaking down in tears in front of his children is simply heartbreaking.
In Good Company (2004)
Once he got into his fifties, Quaid started taking on several ‘Dad’ roles, and it suited him handsomely. He was engaging as parent to the Lindsey Lohan twins in the Parent Trap remake, and crawled half way across America in pretty dreadful weather conditions just to find his son in The Day After Tomorrow.
Perhaps his finest Dad part was in Chris Weitz’s charming, superior rom-com, in which he not only has to endure the fact that his new boss (Topher Grace) is young enough to be his son, but has to deal with the tricky workplace complications that arise when said boss falls for his daughter, played by Scarlett Johansson.
We’ve got 3 copies of the film on DVD to win – check out our competition here.