Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten Dennis Quaid Performances

What’s the first thing you think of when Dennis Quaid is mentioned? Western? Action film? High concept SciFi? Disney flick? For a guy with hero good looks and a winning smile he has deftly managed to avoid being totally typecast in his career and although very frequently nails the romantic lead, also shows up in unconventional, challenging roles that test and allow him to grow as an actor. He’s got charm through the roof but there’s also a darkness brooding in his persona that I always enjoy seeing brought forth in the work, as well as a talent for quick paced deadpan humour. Here are my top ten favourite performances:

10. Vaughn Ely in Martin Guigui’s Beneath The Darkness

Villain roles are a rare breed for him to be found in, but there is the odd one out there. This is a low budget ‘serial killer next door’ type horror flick in which a group of teenagers try to prove that their upstanding, affable neighbour (Dennis) is in fact a mass murdering maniac. Sounds fun, right? It is but only thanks to Quaid’s certifiably fruit-loopy performance that steals the whole thing. It’s new ground for the actor but he seems right at home in dark, tongue in cheek character work and plays the pants off of this unhinged suburban maniac.

9. Jack McGurn in Alan Parker’s Come See The Paradise

This is an important, heartfelt performance and one of the only ones where he doesn’t use that winning smile or roguish charm. Set in the US following the attacks on Pearl Harbour, he plays a family man married to a Japanese woman who, along with their young daughter and entire family, are imprisoned in internment camps during a period of history that is shamefully not discussed very often. It’s a terrible situation to find you and your loved ones in and his performance, which spans over a decade, reflects the hardships and turmoil of that time while retaining a fierce love for family and country.

8. Davidge in Wolfgang Petersen’s Enemy Mine

An intergalactic survival story sees military pilot Quaid and an extraterrestrial (Louis Gossett Jr.) marooned on a strange planet together. Fighting as mortal enemies in a war, they are forced to reconcile hatred and rely on each other for survival. A bond like no other is formed and both actors handle the mutual character development beautifully, making this much more than just a SciFi adventure story.

7. Doc Holliday in Lawrence Kasdan’s Wyatt Earp

This is frequently known as ‘that other Wyatt Earp’ film because in most circles it is eclipsed by the admittedly superior Tombstone. Easy to see why as it’s moody, emotional and dour where it’s counterpart is essentially a cheerful swashbuckler. Val Kilmer’s pitch perfect take on Doc gets all the raves and rightly so but I find Dennis’s rendition to be equally as compelling, a snarky, fatalistic loudmouth who blindsides in certain scenes by laying down lucid emotional truths and providing sad yet profound insights.

6. Jimmy Morris in John Lee Hancock’s The Rookie

I’m not usually huge on sports films but this one is such a great underdog story, father son drama on two levels and just an all round feel good piece. Quaid plays a prodigy pitcher who never got his shot at the major leagues as a kid but now, in his mid forties, he’s thrown another chance when most of the guys around him trying out are half his age. You just find yourself rooting for this guy so willingly when you see the shine in the eyes of his kid (Angus T. Jones) and the blooming admiration his own father (Brian Cox, excellent as always) shows when he succeeds. Quaid plays it stoic, achingly modest and unsure of himself until that magic pitching arm gets to come into play and he becomes youthful again in the blink of an eye with a remarkable piece of acting.

5. Remy Mcswain in Jim McBride’s The Big Easy

About the cockiest hotshot vice cop you could find on the streets of New Orleans, Quaid’s Remy is womanizing, fast talking, fun loving, well meaning and just a tad corrupt, which spurs on the conflict of the film. He clashes royally with uptight DA Ellen Barkin until sparks inevitably fly and we are treated to some of the hottest, most adorable romantic chemistry I’ve seen in cinema. Quaid is easygoing and lighthearted in the role but never too goofy or self parodying, and there’s several scenes of sobering gravity that show his range even in a role as walk-on-the-clouds effervescent as this. We also get to see one of the most mature, realistic and down to earth sex scenes in film history, which is all too rare in Hollywood.

4. Arlis Sweeney in Steve Kloves’s Flesh & Bone

A dark, chilling tale sees Quaid play the son of a ruthless killer (James Caan) who falls in love with a drifter (Meg Ryan) that has some connections to their collective past. This is a stormy, doom laden psychological family drama that didn’t see half the exposure it deserves. Quaid plays the role introverted, a man haunted and confused by events he is still trying to reconcile, pitted against his demon of a dad and on a path to a violent, destructive conclusion.

3. Frank Sullivan in Gregory Hoblit’s Frequency

Trust Quaid and costar Jim Caviesel to make such an ‘out there’ premise feel so down to earth. As father and son they are able to communicate across a thirty year gulf of time and transcend the barrier of death itself via a very special HAM radio. Quaid makes comforting magic out of the Everyman/dad/firefighter/baseball fan archetype. There’s a warmth and genuine love he has for his family that jumps off the screen as grounds the film in human emotion.

2. Guy/Joshua Rose in Predrag Antonejevic’s Saviour

A little seen or heard of film, this one is brutal to sit through but worth it every second. A French foreign legion soldier with a tragic, bloody past, Quaid’s rough hewn mercenary finds himself awash in the Serbian/Bosnian war with no discernible side to fight on, genocide abound at every turn and a stunning lack of humanity poisoning the region. He finds a modicum of redemption in caring for a woman (Natasha Ninkovic) and her baby that is the product of rape by muslims, something her whole village has now shunned her for. This is dark, grim stuff we witness along with Guy, but his actions and eventual turnaround of soul are something wonderful to see. Quaid plays him streamlined of any heroic sensibilities or obvious moral fabric, just a man of few words with a tortured spirit trying to navigate a region tearing itself apart with evil.

1. Nick Parker in Disney’s The Parent Trap

This is a very personal choice for me, it’s one of the first films I ever saw as a kid, and was my introduction to Dennis’s work as an actor. There’s something cosmically perfect and warm about his performance here and to me no other film or series has captured his essence quite like this. Just a laidback Napa valley winemaker, a loving father and husband who finds himself in the wackiest of situations. His father daughter chemistry with both versions of Lindsay Lohan as well as Natasha Richardson just works so well and their whole unconventional, very sweet family dynamic carries the film to memorable heights.

Thanks for reading!! Please feel free to share your own favourite performances from Quaid and as always stay tuned for more content!

-Nate Hill

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