Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 19, 2004 10:08 pm 
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You'll sleep at this movie

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead: the title signals almost desperately that Mike Hodges' film is a neo-noir. It’s an uncomplicated revenge film with the old return-from-retirement theme and has the star of Hodges' 1998 Croupier, Clive Owen, as Will, whose brother Davy (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), has done himself in. Will suspects Davy was driven to it. This story recaps the theme of Hodges’ 1971 Get Carter, which starred the always professional Michael Caine, also on a revenge mission for a brother, and I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead has a similar workmanlike quality, dark look, and lack of outstanding moments.

The twist is that this time the brother whose death is being avenged wasn’t killed, but it turns out he was raped, by none other than Malcolm McDowell as Boad, a dealer in expensive cars with gangland connections. Macdowell is still getting punished for having too much bad-boy fun in the major roles of his youth like If... and A Clockwork Orange, not to mention his over-the-top naughtiness in Caligula. Old bad boys aren’t allowed to get away with it any more.

For what reasons and under what circumstances it is unclear, Boad has envied Davy’s good times and general panache. Both the rape and the suicide smack of homosexual panic. Boad must have had an attraction to the rather pretty Davy (let’s not forget Rhys-Meyers was the androgynous golden boy of Velvet Goldmine), though strangely enough this is never mentioned. Will mulls over the possiblity that Davy might have enjoyed being violated and not wanted to face the fact.

What we do see, since the movie begins with his last few hours, is that Davy has been a bit of a wastrel, dressing well and partying non-stop with the rich, whom he feeds off of by selling them drugs. Davy’s jeunesse dorée is tarnished; one’s not entirely sure his death is worth avenging – but a brother’s a brother. Boad is of course tracked down and humiliated, though not perhaps as spectacularly as one would like. The suicide is a bit odd: it appears Davy has collapsed with fatigue into a bathtub, and one only later realizes he’s done himself in. Perhaps he was just tired of his dreary round of do-nothing fun. The homophobia, like much else in the film, is muddled and undigested.

The film meanders after the opening sequence, taking its time and never building up much momentum. Will has to get around to coming out of his new drifter-outdoorsman existence and reopening his gangster ties, and he takes his time about it. He engages in long conversations with various people who may know something, including the haunting looking Charlotte Rampling, wasted here in a comatosely neutral role.

The all-too-brief fun sequence of the film comes when Will, who's coming off three years as an itinerant lumberjack and sports a dark beard, physically transforms himself back into elegant assassin mode: in a nice series of process shots the beard comes off, a dark suit is donned, and will slides into his newly polished vintage Jaguar to avenge Davy’s death. But the imagery is old fashioned, the end is anticlimactic, and the best threads are left dangling. A plethora of dark images and noirish clichés do not cause the all-too-somnolent I’ll Sleep When I’m dead to come awake. Frankly the buzz around Hodges’ late-bloomer success with Owen in Croupier left me pretty cold. There’s no more spice in the soup here.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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