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Rutger Hauer: an icily elegant presence with a touch of self-aware drollery | Peter Bradshaw

Hauer became a hall-of-famer with his Tears in Rain speech in Blade Runner, but there was much more to this talented, stylish actor

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Quite an experience to live in fear, isnt it? Thats what it is to be a slave. So begins the icily elegant final speech in Ridley Scotts 1982 classic Blade Runner. It is famously delivered by the Dutch star Rutger Hauer, playing Roy, the charismatic replicant rebel with the mysterious moral sense who rescues Harrison Fords cop Deckard from falling at the very last. And as the rain streams down his face, Roy pronounces: Ive seen things you people wouldnt believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.

C-beams evidently means the caesium beams used in space combat and the Tannhuser Gate apparently an interstellar portal. The speech was semi-improvised, the tears in rain line being Hauers own idea. Did he, at some unconscious level, access a memory of the Everly Brothers Crying in the Rain? Either way, he gave this devastatingly bleak and opaque aria a touch of what later generations might call relatability; he sold it to movie audiences around the world who might otherwise at that late stage be too punch-drunk with postmodern sci-fi action to pay attention to a tricky closing speech. It conferred on Hauer himself real hall-of-famer status. His enigmatic combination of despair, forgiveness, and passionate connoisseurship of what it is to be alive which as a replicant, he can hardly know as much as real humans supplies a satisfying ending to the film, an ending that wouldnt otherwise be there.

Hauer had a fierce blond handsomeness as a young man which was to crag up in early middle age into something meaner and starker: perhaps a little like Max Von Sydow, but without the gravitas. In the 1980s, when he became famous internationally, it was Hauers destiny to be cast as the the bad guy when Reagan-era action movies in Hollywood needed a mannered stylish villain or Nordic nasty to play opposite the all-American hero: people like Dolph Lundgren or indeed our own Alan Rickman as the German terrorist in Die Hard.

In Nighthawks (1981), Hauer played a fanatic terrorist, opposite the more wholesomely conceived cop, played by Sylvester Stallone. He was slightly more demandingly cast by Nicolas Roeg in Eureka (1983) as the ambitious and grasping social climber who is to become the highly unreliable son-in-law of Gene Hackmans retired plutocrat. But again it was his foreignness, his Europeanness, which was brought into play as the symbol of something sinister and cynical and Hauer brought to this, as so many other roles, a theatrical touch of self-aware drollery.

Then in 1986, he achieved the second pillar of his celebrity status with the gruesome horror thriller The Hitcher, playing the hitch-hiker who terrorises and butchers those rash enough to pick him up. This movie hardly had the challenge of dark poetry or subtlety that Roeg and Scott had given him, and The Hitcher was little loved critically or indeed by theatre audiences who mostly stayed away. But it had a long afterlife on VHS leading to cult status, and one of Rutger Hauers less glorious achievements was said to be that he single-handedly ended hitch-hiking as a commonplace travel option for young people in the United States.

Hauer so often played the amoral monster: very memorably portraying the corrupt and homicidal Cardinal Roark in Robert Rodriguezs Sin City (2005). But in fact he won his single substantial award, a best supporting actor Golden Globe, for his much-admired performance in the TV drama Escape From Sobibor (1987), the story of the 1943 uprising at the Nazis death camp. He played Sacha Perchersky, the tough Russian Jewish inmate who enthusiastically takes up the mutiny plan and in fact lives to rejoin his Red Army unit. Perhaps Hauer got typecast as the quasi-Nazi bad guy a lot of the time, but his dynamic, charismatic Perchersky showed the different career he might have had, were he not imprisoned by a certain type of frosty or black comic look and sound which incidentally gave him a lot of lucrative voiceover work.

Hauer was a stylish, talented man who will have a place in the heart of all of us who saw Blade Runner and found ourselves watching it again and again, and found ourselves blindsided afresh by that speech of Hauers: a speech about tears in the rain delivered by someone who is tragically, mournfully dry-eyed.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2019/jul/24/rutger-hauer-an-icily-elegant-presence-with-a-touch-of-self-aware-drollery

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