Classic Kiwi thriller, the debut film from Roger Donaldson (The World’s Fastest Indian). Set in the near future, Sam Neill is a reclusive New Zealander caught between two warring factions: the fascist government and its resistance movement. Co-stars Ian Mune and Warren Oates. Based on the novel Smith's Dream by CK Stead.
Distraught after his wife ditches him for his best mate Bullen (Mune), Smith (Neill) leaves for some alone time in the Coromandel. Meanwhile, industrial disputes plunge New Zealand into a violent police state (in scenes that seem to anticipate the 1981 Springbok Tour riots) and a fascist government institutes martial law. Smith is wrongly accused of being anti-government and caught by the military. He escapes with the aid of Bullen and his revolutionary comrades, and becomes increasingly under pressure to join the resistance for real.
Sleeping Dogs was the first NZ film to be released in the States. As well as launching the careers of Donaldson and Neill, the movie's success was a key factor in establishing the New Zealand Film Commission.