3.5 stars out of 4. A gem.
A man waits in the shadows of a doorway at night. He watches a woman close her restaurant and makes a Harry Lime styled appearance to her. She freezes for a moment and then simply walks back inside to wait. Nothing is said to set these two up as characters. They already exist and we are trusted enough to fill in the gaps accordingly.
This is the major strength of the film, and the biggest problem for most. The majority of reviews claim that is is very slow and further so because little to nothing is explained. It is labeled as an existentialist throwaway piece and sent straight to the reject bin. In doing this they have missed the whole point of the exercise.
Much like a cross between Get Carter and Croupier (A film I cannot wait to revisit), I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead is Mike Hodges’ answer to his detractors: Screw off. It both embraces and rejects the notions of a revenge thriller and what is now known as the modern British crime drama. (Something which Get Carter essentially created when some folks misread Hodges social criticism.) The plot is so highly similar to the director’s earlier film that it recalls Scorsese’s masterpiece Bringing Out the Dead and its constant alludes to Taxi Driver. This is not a sign of laziness but a conscious return to previous work to examine new paths, details and ideas. This leads into the assured existential quality of Croupier and when the two moods are combined the result is this multifaceted gem.
The plot is relatively simple. Davey Graham (Johnathan Rhys-Meyers) is a occasional low level drug dealer to a wealthier clientele. After doing a deal at a party and a tryst later he is nabbed on the street and raped by an unknown assailant. He staggers back to his dreary flat and later commits suicide. This brings out his brother Will (Clive Owen) from some sort of hiding as a lumberjack to discover the why behind his brother’s death. Now that sounds fine and all, but Will just so happens to be a former notorious London crime boss. His return sends the criminal underworld into a tizzy over his possible intentions and these come to a head when the long haired bearded man in a tiny camper van arrives back in town.
This is a film that one can simply sit back and drink in the details without worrying over simple nothings that come up in ordinary plotboilers. Combine this with a dreary nothingness and you have the hallmarks of great noir. In the end, the whys behind everything are swallowed into nothingness like golf balls into the sea.
EDITIONS: A lone DVD release from Paramount gives us a serviceable 16:9 enhanced 1.78:1 transfer. The image comes from a print with a few print marks and specks here and there. It looks great for the format and time of release. The soundmix is a clever 5.1 Dolby track that at first seems to be confined to the center and front channels and gradually works its way into LFE and surround channels to eventually envelop you in the ambiance of the gritty film. Very good. No extras, no trailer, but a reel of other trailers is included. The DVD is long out of print, but usually found in used shops and stores if you look. Currently available on Amazon instant video, but you know how bad video streams look. Hopefully a Blu-ray might come out of some smaller studio eventually, as I don’t think Paramount much cares for its art films under the Classics banner.
And how many great nasty roles can Malcolm McDowell do? You automatically get a knowing smile in reflex on your face whenever he appears in a film.