4 Performances: Radha Mitchell

I'm working on a review / essay of THE CRAZIES which will hopefully be up some time in the next few days.  In reflecting on the film, I've spent a lot of time thinking about Radha Mitchell, and how fantastic she is in nearly everything she does.  She's seen some mainstream action here and there, prominently featured in Woody Allen's underrated MELINDA AND MELINDA, the passable sci-fi actioner SURROGATES, and various smaller roles as love interests here and there, but her real bread and butter seems to be in genre work, particularly in horror related roles.  She strives here, and I adore her in these roles, and despite appearances, she's very versatile in her performance styles.

Playing pilot Carolyn Fry in David Twohy's PITCH BLACK, Mitchell holds her own with then rising star Vin Diesel, who actually turned out to be a decent actor himself before apparently deciding to stick to the big dumb action vehicle.  In an unassuming yet heroic role, she's really the film's main character, though overshadowed by the presence of fan-favorite Riddick.  Still, there would be no film without her, and Mitchell imbues the role with sympathy and humanity, and acts as the audience's cypher, never sure of the escaped convict who is helping her survive, and the voice of reason at the climax, when he threatens to leave the other stranded crew behind.

Though most horror films share an interest in female relationships, both real and theoretical, SILENT HILL may be one of the rare few that is implicitly interested in concepts of motherhood and the protective nature of that relationship.  As Rose da Silva, Mitchell searches for her missing daughter Sharon in the town of Silent Hill, a rotting facade that holds a dark secret.  The film is dark, menacing and covered in the swirl of ash that is omnipresent in the town, and Mitchell is at the center of it, carrying the film almost on her own shoulders (though ably assisted by Deborah Kara Unger and Laurie Holden).  In fact, there is only one male character of any importance in the whole film: Sean Bean as Sharon's father.  Even he is relegated to supporting status, and never has much interaction with the female cast. 

ROGUE (2007)
If there were a film done major injustice by its being released direct-to-DVD in the U.S., it would definitely be ROGUE, Australian director Greg Mclean's amazing killer croc feature.  The film follows the patrons of a tour boat in the Australian outback which comes under attack from a crocodile after running aground and must fight for their survival.  Radha Mitchell shines under Mclean's tight scripting and direction as boat guide Kate Ryan, who along with an American journalist, must overcome the creature's attacks.  It's fun to watch her in this role because she seems to be having so much fun with it, exhibiting athleticism, comic timing and getting to work in her native accent.  I've done a quick blurb about this film before, but if you didn't check it out then, see it now.  She's great.

Here we go: Radha Mitchell gets major screen time, paired with Timothy Olyphant (who is also terrific here, by the way), and plays yet another seemingly stereotypical female in a horror film.  As Judy Dutton, she displays great acting chops as both a victim and one of the main protagonists trying to escape their quarantined town and evade the military.  What makes this character work for me is Mitchell's ability to run the gamut emotionally, and to really take on a role that could be approached as simply going through the motions: get caught, scream and cry, get saved.  But Judy isn't like that, and Mitchell never plays her that way.  Even when the situation seems to play out in typical fashion, there's a sense of reality in her eyes that makes you really feel for the character.  That's rare in any genre fare, and Radha Mitchell gives it her all over and over again.

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