Tom Jolliffe pays tribute to Rutger Hauer after the news of his passing…
I’ve been a huge fan of Rutger Hauer from the very first time I watched Blade Runner. The film shouldn’t have connected so instantly with me, for someone so young, but it did. Though it was Harrison Ford a.k.a. Solo, a.k.a. Indiana Jones who drew me to that film, and those glorious visuals and soundscapes that bewitched me so much, it was always Hauer who left the most lasting impression.
Over time and over more subsequent viewings that performance began to show more and more layers of nuance. Hauer, as an actor when given the freedom to play, was capable of the unique and the electrifying. Batty isn’t a great villain. He’s so much more. It’s why Hauer gives the ‘iconic’ performance in a film loaded with great performances (including one of Ford’s most nuanced too). Blade Runner didn’t impact instantly of course. It’s legacy took time to build. As such I feel like the true level of appreciation that should be laid at Hauer’s feet for this never quite came. He’s attained legendary cult status, largely due to Batty, no doubt, but I don’t feel it hyperbole to say that he delivers one of cinemas great performances, creating one of its most engaging and unique characters.
To say I’m gutted at the news of Rutger’s passing is an understatement. It’s a little crushing. As I write this I think back to only my second piece for Flickering Myth. It came almost 9 years ago and it was a piece about Hauer. I’ve covered him a few times since over the years here and there. Something about Rutger and his approach to the craft, and his eccentricity just struck a chord with me.
There are a selection of films, which in no small part, he pushed into cult-levels of fandom because his performances were so bedazzling. The best example of this is The Hitcher. Now in its own right it would have been a solid video action/horror. It’s absolutely gorgeously shot and the score is atmospheric and creepy. As the beleaguered protagonist, the young C. Thomas Howell is put through the wringer. He’s good too, but a reason people love The Hitcher and it continues collecting fans 33 years later is because of Hauer. He’s the ultimate enigmatic villain. Playful, intense, charismatic, oddly likeable, and almost mythic and his approach to the role intimidated his young co-star. If you watch behind the scenes material about the film, Rutger’s penchant for ‘in the moment’ impulse really adds to the character. It could be randomly waving a handkerchief out the window of a passing car, or catching a tear drop from Howell’s cheek on the blade of the knife he’s holding dangerously close to C Tommy’s eyeball. It was this kind of impulse, instinct and creativity that Ridley Scott found so interesting in Blade Runner, allowing Hauer a bit of freedom to inject Batty with so many unique quirks, not least Hauer’s iconic addition to the Batty’s final moments…the infamous ‘tears in rain’ speech. Where Scott left actors alone, many felt slightly abandoned by a director who was more concerned with the visuals, whilst Hauer relished the free roaming licence to thrill.
Rutger, one of the finest Dutch exports, had forged a long and illustrious career. One of wildly diverging quality, finding himself drawn down into a world of cable specials and straight to video genre films. Every now and again a Chris Nolan or Robert Rodriguez or Luc Besson would call him up to inject something interesting into a supporting role in a big film. Not being American meant he was difficult to cast in certain films. He had a run of being a genre leading man in the 80’s. Perhaps too intense to be a consistent every-man hero. He was always an exceptional villain, but found himself being typecast there (and wanting to move away). Likewise, box office never stuck to him unfortunately. That lead to the inevitable regression into video land, but regardless, he always injected something interesting into his roles.
Hauer though, should be held in the regard that Pacino is, De Niro. He was that talented. He was that good. It just never quite happened that way. Not that he didn’t relish his lot in life. Sometimes an artist never quite gets the recognition they fully deserve. He’s an icon, but really, he’s one of the best of the best.
As a long time fan I certainly recommend a number of his cult favourites. Checking out Hauer’s Dutch work is definitely recommended and a decent start point is Soldier of Orange (directed by Paul Verhoeven). Also watch him steal the film from under the nose of Sly Stallone in Nighthawks, his Hollywood breakout. The 80’s is a treasure trove of interesting and and eclectic genre films that Hauer starred in. Another Verhoeven collaboration in Flesh and Blood. Blind Fury is a routine action film and riff on Zatoichi that has Hauer in playful form. Brilliant fights and a great showdown with Sho Kosugi. Wanted: Dead or Alive, Blood of Heroes, The Osterman Weekend and Ladyhawke also mark enjoyable Hauer roles.
If there’s one overlooked gem to be seen it’s The Legend of The Holy Drinker. For years, decent versions of this film were nowhere to be found (short of paying massive fees for a VHS on eBay). From writer director Ermanno Olmi, this beautifully crafted fable sees Hauer as a down and out homeless man gifted 200 francs. Hauer promises to pay it back as soon as possible, but life keeps imposing on that promise. It’s beautifully shot and a recent Arrow Blu-ray release is a stunning edition which has essentially given a new lease of life for an undiscovered gem. It’s some of Hauer’s most restrained, reflective and beautifully nuanced work. It’s a stunning piece of cinema well worth checking out, and for Hauer fans too, one that even the most ardent may not have even yet discovered.
In more recent times Hauer had tended to take smaller roles (and many of them). He’s still been afforded the odd gem, including Hobo With a Shotgun. It’s pure grindhouse and one of the better of that era of post-modern grindhouse inspired by Tarantino and Rodriguez. What made it stand apart from most though was just how engaging Hauer’s performance was. The rest of the film is atypically trashy (intentionally) but Hauer just grounds it with this fantastic performance making the film more emotionally engaging than it had a right to be. Additionally check Rutger in The Heineken Kidnapping, far superior to the Hollywood remake (which saw Anthony Hopkins play the titular Mr Heineken).
With a lasting legacy full of iconic performances, Hauer will be sorely missed. There was always that sense that should the call have come from a cinematic auteur, he’d have been willing and able to produce something special again. Regardless, Hauer was never less than magnetic. Rest in peace.
What’s your favourite Hauer film? Let us know your thoughts about Hauer on our Twitter page @FlickeringMyth or in the comments below.
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has three features due out on DVD/VOD in 2019 and a number of shorts hitting festivals. Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see here.