Fans of the great James Cameron’s early work will know that there’s only one man you can really trust when it comes to taking on killer cyborgs or blood-thirsty aliens, and that man goes by the name of Michael Biehn. And yet, while he’s been in a few of the biggest movies ever made and is likely one of the most recognizable stars from the ‘80s, he’s still highly underappreciated. Seriously, this dude should be a bigger star by now! But while he may not be making a handful of blockbusters each year, the man is still hard at work and, most recently, has become a returning face to the horror genre, thus beckoning us to take a closer look and really give tribute to the man who fathered the savoir of the apocalypse.
Like any actor, Biehn’s best work is when he was paired with great directors, mainly the aforementioned James Cameron. Being cast as Kyle Reese, the only thing standing between our future and a relentless killing machine, was a godsend upon his career. Audiences became aware that only one man could really stand up to the hulking mass that was Arnold Schwarzenegger and live to tell about it, giving us a character that could kick ass but also emote a level of pain and suffering that wasn’t always present in action heroes at the time. From there, Cameron smartly cast Biehn again in ALIENS as Cpl. Hicks, the badass leader of a group of elite marines tasks to take on one of the scariest movie monsters in history. And once again, Biehn proved to us that he wasn’t your average 80s action hero, but one that was slightly more complex… maybe to compensate for his lack of bulging muscles? Maybe…
Cameron struck gold a third time with THE ABYSS, giving Biehn a similar military-style role to sink his teeth into, but one that goes from “good” to “bad” by the end of the film, showing us that while he’s usually the hero, Biehn can be the villain when he wants to. Other rockstar films of Biehn also include TIMEBOMB, TOMBSTONE, PLANET TERROR, NAVY SEALS, and THE ROCK, a film that really should have breathed new life into his sagging mid-90s career but pretty much didn’t lift the needle in any direction for Biehn (a damn shame, if you ask me). It’s hard to find a guy with such an esteemed filmography as this, and yet… the guy hasn’t been the star of anything for over 20 years. What up with that?
The man has starred in more than 80 movies and/or TV shows over the years so it’s no doubt that he as a few bad seeds under his belt, but much like other established actors, just cause they were bad doesn’t mean he was bad in them (though he’s definitely guilty a more than a few shitacular performances). THE ART OF WAR, CLOCKSTOPPERS, THEY WAIT, and DEADFALL all come immediately to mind as some of his worst efforts, with DEADFALL taking the cast as the absolute worst. The film stars Nicolas Cage and about 2 pounds of cocaine, which makes the moments with Cage on screen absolutely fantastic. But everything else about the movie, particularly Biehn himself but pretty much everything and everyone in DEADFALL essentially screwed the pooch resulting in a dreadful experience all around.
What makes a solid Biehn performance? Think Kyle Reese and Hicks smashed together with a little more edge, a little more attitude, and about 14 extra gallons of gruff sauce and you have Biehn in a nutshell. And yet through his thick layer of attitude the guy still manages to have a soft, sensitive side, one that always manages to swoon a leading lady or two to get a taste of what the Biehn has to offer. NAVY SEALS is a prime example of his ability to be tough as nails, but also sensitive, but unfortunately, it’s also an example as to why it’s always been hard for him to carry a movie by himself… he lacks that certain something that allows him to carry a movie on his own, and yet possess a charisma that makes him perfect as a supporting character.
Lately his trademarked persona is a bit different than earlier in his career, banking off the fact that he’s a cranky older dude who doesn’t give a f*ck, as masterfully depicted in PLANET TERROR and other more genre-based flicks like BEREAVEMENT. He’s made quite the transition from big-budget action star to low-budget genre star and in many ways, he’s in a better place for it.
One of my favorite movies of the year is Xavier Gens’ THE DIVIDE starring Biehn as a cranky old survivalist in the shadow of an apocalyptic event. His performance is among one of the better things the film has going for it, giving us a guy whom we initially like, then hate, then like again, and in the end, is the only motherf*cker in the entire movie that makes any sense. Biehn brings an aged intensity to the role that can’t be matched, even though Milo Ventimiglia and Rosanna Arquette give him a run for his money. The film may be one of the biggest bummers of all time and yet there’s something about it that I simply can’t get enough and Biehn delivers one of the better and most memorable performances of his career.
And as an honorary mention, Biehn’s role as Topher Grace’s dad in TAKE ME HOME TONIGHT is brilliant… absolutely brilliant! He’s a badass and has the right comedic timing to boot!
Hitting DVD and Blu-ray shelves everywhere this week is Biehn’s directorial debut in THE VICTIM, a film in which he wrote and also stars in alongside his real-life wife, Jennifer Blanc, and genre-favorite Danielle Harris. I wish I could sit here and tell you how great the film was and what it delight it was to see Biehn’s vision come to life, but really… this is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen Biehn appear. I don’t know if it’s because he was directing himself or because it’s his first stab behind the camera, but whatever it was… THE VICTIM was a miss and should be missed by just about everyone out there. Trust me, you’ll want those precious 90 minutes back if you have to sit through this one.
Other projects he has coming down the pipe are seemingly all genre-based, which is nice: SUSHI GIRL, THE DARK FOREST, and HIDDEN IN THE WOODS are all looking to scare the pants off of us with Biehn being a hardass of some sort or another in all of them (no doubt). You can also catch him in the little low budget western flick YELLOW ROCK, currently available via Video On Demand and everywhere else videos are sold.
From THE TERMINATOR to PLANET TERROR, ALIENS to BEREAVEMENT, THE ROCK to THE DIVIDE, Michael Biehn has been a huge supporting character in some of the biggest films to come out of the last couple of decades. The man does action, he does sci-fi, he does horror, and he does low-budget indie flicks with the same ferocious doesn’t-give-a-f*ck attitude that makes him one of the most likable and respectable dudes working in Hollywood today. And while I didn’t like THE VICTIM, big props to him for writing a movie and getting it made… that’s a bigger accomplishment than most people have achieved in the business, and it doesn’t look like he plans on slowing down anytime soon. And if THE EXPENDABLES 3 ever gets made… please set aside a role for the Biehn! The guy deserves it!