Sleeping Dogs (1977)

New Zealand,
35mm film, “filmed in Eastmancolor”, 1.85:1
mono, English
Reviewed at The

A New Zealand science fiction film directed by Roger Donaldson.


In a near future New Zealand the reclusive Smith finds himself drawn reluctantly into a struggle between and the right-wing government.


Directed by: Roger Donaldson
Copyright Aardvark Films 1977
Aardvark Films presents. Roger Donaldson's film. Produced by Aardvark Films Ltd in association with Broadbank Films Ltd, Develeopment Finance Corporation of New Zealand, Television One with the assistance of The Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council
Produced by: Roger Donaldson
Screenplay by: Ian Mune and Arthur Baysting
Based on the NovelSmith's Dream by: Karl Stead [real name: Christian K. Stead]
Director of Photography: Michael Seresin
Edited by: Ian John
Music by: Murray Grindlay, David Calder, Mathew Brown
Sound Recordist: Craig McLeod
Costumes: Rosan McLeod, Lesley McLennan
Make-up and Hairdressing: Sarah Anderson
Special FX Director: Geoff Murphy
Art Direction: Roger Donaldson, Ian Mune

Sam Neill as Smith
Ian Mune as Bullen
Warren Oates as Colonel Willoughby
Nevan Rowe (Gloria)
Donna Akersten (Mary)
Ian Watkin (Dudley)
Bill Johnson (Cousins)
Melissa Donaldson (Melissa)
Dougal Stevenson (news reader)
Bernard Kearns (prime minister)
Raf Irving (reporter)
Cass Donaldson (Cass)
Don Selwyn (Taupiri)
Tommy Tinirau (old Maori man)
Snuffles (dog)
Roger Oakley (assassin leader)
Clyde Scott (Jesperson)
Dorothy McKegg (Gloria's mother)
Tony Groser (Gloria's father)
Bernard Moody (man at wharf)

Alternative Titles

Coup d'État – Canada (French)
Força Selvagem – Portugal
Schlafende Hunde – West Germany
Unica regola vincere – Italy

Extracts included in
Cinema of Unease: A Personal Journey by Sam Neill (1995)
The Making of Sleeping (2004)


Variety 19 October 1977 p.26
[T]he most ambitious entry in the country's current [New Zealand] film renaissance, with sharp directional flair evident, particularly in the action segments, taut performances by the large cast and a handsome technical gloss in all departments. When the pictures are left to tell the story they do it with great visual impact. The script is less successful, notably in its failure to establish the relationship between Smith, his wife and Bullen early enough, and the reason for Smith's walkout on his family […] As Smith, Sam Neill is natural. He projects the right intensity for a man caught up in an Orwellian nightmare. Neill's charm overcomes the script ambiguity which seems to have him deserting his family for no better reason than that he doesn't like the way the political scene is shaping […] Without going for the easy scenic shots, Michael Sarasin's camera work records the freshness of a landscape hardly seen on international screens. It will give “Sleeping Dogs” a visual novelty for offshore audiences. – from a review by Dub

The Hollywood Reporter vol.270 no.44 (5 March 1982) p.37
While the film has pretensions of being a political chase thriller, its core is really in its enticing, bristling action scenes. The story takes place in contemporary New Zealand […] Donaldson… has served up enough spectacular action to sate the heart of the most devoted of this genre […] Michael Seresin's striking photography of New Zealand's beautiful sea and mountains, is a strong production asset. Ian John's editing is skillful, but the climactic sequence, while exciting, is overextended. […] While a stronger script with greater clarity and more compactness would have better served “Sleeping Dogs,” it is still a respectable debut for the New Zealanders. – from a review by Charles Ryweck



  • Cinema Papers no.14 (October 1977) p.182 – illustrated article (New Zealand report by Howard Willis)
  • Film International vol.6 no.2 (2008) pp.14-22 – illustrated article (New Zealand film and questions of genre by Barry Keith Grant)
  • The Hollywood Reporter vol.270 no.44 (5 March 1982) p.37 – review (by Charles Ryweck)
  • Metro no.140 (2004) pp.118-121 – illustrated interview with Roger Donaldson (First features part one: Roger Donaldson: ‘Sleeping Dogs' by Tristan Bancks)
  • Screen International no.139 (20 May 1978) p.12 – interview with Roger Donaldson (World News Desk, Dateline: Australia by Raymond Stanley)
  • Variety 19 October 1977 p.26 – credits, review (by Dub)


  • Film in Aotearoa New Zealand by Jonathan Dennis, Jan Bieringa pp.34, 47, 134, 167, 176, 214
  • The Films of the Eighties by Robert A. Nowlan and Gwendolyn Wright Nowlan p.526