I'll Sleep When I'm Dead

Well made, well acted, well directed, well-received and well...dull really.

Released in 2003, certified UK-15. Reviewed on 04 Jun 2004 by Craig Eastman
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Mike Hodges; arguably the daddy of the gritty British urban thriller genre. Get Carter anyone? Roll on his latest acclaimed work, I'll Sleep When I'm Dead, which reunites the director with Clive Owen, star of their huge US hit Croupier (and the next Bond, if there's any justice in the world). Much has been said of this film already, premiering as it did last year and touring the festival circuit before finding a limited UK release this May. The vast majority of this word of mouth has been hugely positive, claiming plaudits from a sizeable number of published sources, but there has been some criticism that I'll Sleep... is simply a Carter remake (though thankfully not of the kind precipitated by Sly Stallone and his cronies).

The thruth is that I'll Sleep... is a much slower burn, and while sharing an uncannily close plot the tone of this piece is arguably darker than Carter in the majority of respects. Owen plays Will Graham, a London gangland legend who has renounced his former life and now leads a reclusive existence as a woodland worker out in the country. Why he chose a life sleeping in the back of a camper van and pissing in a bucket is never fully explained, but it's actually quite refreshing to find a movie that credits the audience with the ability to fill in some blanks every now and again. Returning home to London (or perhaps more accurately "Laahndaan" since we're thoroughly in Cockney territory), Will finds his brother Davey (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) has committed suicide in the bath with little or no explanation.

Smelling a gangland rat, Will enlists the help of Mickser (Jamie Foreman), his brother's best friend, and gradually the pair pick apart the shocking truth behind the circumstances of the death. Rapidly uncovering the truth that his brother's suicide was the result of his having been raped (the film's most disturbing yet thankfully still rather sparing scene), Will sets about uncovering the identity of the unknown assailant, all the while trying to reconcile his relationship with former lover Helen (Charlotte Rampling), and avoiding the inevitable "reform the band" musings of his hoodlum ex-cronies.

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When Will unmasks exotic car dealer Boad (Malcolm McDowell) as his brother's assailant, retribution is as minimalist and effective as director Hodges' handling of the film as a whole. Unfortunately, it's this bare-bones, no-nonsense style that threatens to alienate a certain percentage of the marketing men's target demographic, the silly buggers having played it up as the best thing since Get Carter, which it aint. Where Caine locked sluts in the boots of sinking cars and turfs big Alf Roberts off a multi-storey car park, Owen's admittedly imposing presence relies on moping around projecting hardness from his persona, rather than hoodlums off buildings. It's this relative inaction amongst a promise of hard-boiled gangster happenings that most disappoints and will detract the casual punter away from what is otherwise an excellent observation in quiet rage.

Owen's detached stillness is extremely effective as relates to conveying without words the general hard-ass nature of Will Graham's beast, but in a film where we are to assume he's the only one we should care for (little brother's a wannabe middle class drug-pusher cum pimp; not one to shed a tear for) it makes it extremely hard to connect emotionally with him on any level. Perhaps Hodges has taken the "you fill in the blanks" approach too far; it's great to have to interpolate certain areas of ambiguity from surrounding events or briefly-mentioned occurrences for once (you don't have to be a rocket scientist to suss Will's future come the closing credits), but a little too much to expect me to give a hoot about this guy when he simply doesn't emote...

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Without doubt, the individual elements represented in I'll Sleep When I'm Dead are pretty much consumately well endowed; fine acting, a great foreboding atmosphere, super-lean script, intelligent direction. It's just that for some odd and relatively unquantifiable reason they don't gel as they should. It's not just me either. Our Tippy was just as stuck on the middle of the fence as I was. Appreciably well-made, yes. Involving, no. And that's pretty much the bottom line.

While the papers may be full of superlative-spewing gushes of admiration, I can't help but imagine Joe Public will find this particular flick decidedly...well, dull really. I really did try my best to like this movie, but at the end of the day if you have to force yourself to try and admire something it's obviously not worth the effort. Terribly sorry Mike, but I just can't bring myself to commend it as highly as everybody else would seem to want to. Maybe we're just missing something...

Disko rather disappointedly awards this movie 3 out of 5 "Not A Bee" Units

Mike Hodges
Cast list:
Clive Owen (Will Graham)
Jonathan Rhys-Meyers (Davey Graham)
Malcolm McDowell (Boad)
Charlotte Rampling (Helen)
Jamie Foreman (Mickser)