***½/**** Image A Sound B
starring Clive Owen, Charlotte Rampling, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Malcolm McDowell
screenplay by Trevor Preston
directed by Mike Hodges
by Walter Chaw Mike Hodges has only made a handful of films in the last three decades, even disowning a couple of them along the way because they were taken from him and edited to accommodate someone else's vision. Hodges's first film is the legendary revenge flick Get Carter featuring a never-better Michael Caine, and his latest, I'll Sleep When I'm Dead, functions very much as a bookend to his directorial debut: it's the tale of a man of few words on a mission to avenge a wrong. Reuniting Hodges with Clive Owen, star of his modest hit Croupier, I'll Sleep When I'm Dead is beautifully-lensed by long-time DP Michael Garfath in a manner that, although the picture was shot in London, looks extraordinarily like an Edward Hopper painting. Hodges, beyond being a narrative stylist, has evolved into something of a visual stylist as well. In this way, he suggests a British Wim Wenders.
Will Graham (Owen)--no relation to the Thomas Harris protagonist--is scratching out an existence as a logger, living at subsistence level in a van with what looks like a year's worth of scruff. His past is unknown to us, but the impassive way he deals with the victim of a savage beating leads us to believe that he's not unfamiliar with violence. In London, meanwhile, low-level drug dealer and playboy Davey Graham (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) meets some misfortune at the hands of Boad (Malcolm McDowell), leading to a search for older brother Will to settle some old scores.
Its narrative the height of simplicity, what works about I'll Sleep When I'm Dead is its almost complete lack of sentimentality and handholding. It's reductive, almost--a combination of implications sewn together by underworld clichés and genre conventions. Will is the two-fisted tough, his jilted love Helen (Charlotte Rampling) is toughened and pickled, and the way the story comes to a boil is ugly and covered by a thin slick of disquiet. Postures and terse pronouncements rule the day while over everything hangs a manifest design of misspent passion and sudden death that Will tries to escape before, Michael Corleone-like, they pull him back in. With the whole of I'll Sleep When I'm Dead's minimalist nihilism greater than the sum of its vignette parts, it's the film's images and ideas that linger, down to an oblique conclusion that hints that for as nasty and hopeless as things have been, the worst is yet to come. It's a little like Jules Dassin's Night and the City in that way: a scarred-up, bare-knuckled fighter in Palookaville, pretty in its pug-ugly grace--and dangerous, too. Originally published: June 25, 2004.
by Bill Chambers Paramount presents I'll Sleep When I'm Dead on DVD in a pleasing 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Titles from the Mountain's Classics division tend to be a bit of a crapshoot for the consumer, but this one rewards with a crisp, clean image that exhibits none of the annoying filtering that made the studio's Love Me If You Dare an even bigger headache than it already was. Both contrast and saturation are fittingly naturalistic. The accompanying Dolby Digital 5.1 soundmix is a bit more problematic, as voices are too hushed at reference volume--turn it up to hear the dialogue better and the stray foley effect or a snatch of Simon Fisher-Turner's score will really catch you off guard. (Still, you're not going to encounter any distortion by doing so.) A block of trailers for Northfork, And Now... Ladies & Gentlemen, The Reckoning, Love Me If You Dare, and The United States of Leland rounds out the disc. Originally published: November 11, 2004.