Saturday, July 10, 2004

I'll Sleep When I'm Dead

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 10 July 2004 at Landmark Kendall Square #7 (first-run)

Croupier was a movie that gained more notoriety for its release pattern than its actual merit; more ink was spilled over Clive Owen not being eligible for an Oscar than whether he really deserved one. Now, five years later, Owen reteams with his Croupier director (Mike Hodges) for another grimy, modestly entertaining flick.

This time, Owen plays Will Graham, who has been living out of the back of his van for three years, working odd jobs and keeping a low profile. Jonathan Rhys-Meyers plays his brother Davey, an affable young man who sells a few drugs at parties but is far from the hard man Will used to be. That's before a brutal attack, though, and in the aftermath, the Grahams' friend Mickser (Jamie Foreman) is unable to find Will, so thoroughly has he cut himself off from his old life. That's okay, though, because Will has been trying to call Davey, and comes to London to investigate. And once he's there, he's going to be looking for some explanations.

I'll Sleep When I'm Dead has a great hard-boiled title which has very little to do with the movie. It's got a nifty noirish title sequence (there should be an Academy Award for those; call it the Saul Bass Award or something), and early on establishes a kind of modern noir atmosphere. There's some lip service given to whether Will can come back and not fall into his old ways, along with some decent scenes which reminded me why I like British gangster movies much more than American ones; the criminals in UK movies seem much nastier and less romanticized than the ones Hollywood (or even US indies) give us. The pieces for a fine tough-guy movie are all there.

It never comes together as a thriller, though. There are some machinations by local tough Frank Turner (Ken Stott) that, by the end, seem rather disconnected from the rest of the movie. And what kind of hardcase takes a moment in the middle of his movie to talk with a kindly grief counselor, whose purprose is basically to tell the audience what was going through the minds of Davey and his attacker. It's not something we can't figure out, and in the end gives Malcolm MacDowell much less to do as Boad, the villain in question. That's probably deliberate, as getting to really see what makes Boad tick would probably divert attention from Owen's Will, but it might have also given the audience someone to compare Will to.

Clive Owen inhabits Will nicely. For most of the movie, Will is shaggy and unshaven, and it's only Owen's strong, harsh voice that really clues the audience into his past history as a thug. when he emerges as a sleek-looking killer later, it's a nifty transformation, almost like a different character emerging from the first. It's necessary, since his confrontation with Boad would have had a completely different vibe if he still looked like a pikey.

Advertising I'll Sleep When I'm Dead as "the new thriller from the director and star of Croupier" is somewhat disingenous. Don't get me wrong; the low-key stuff works, for the most part. I wonder if perhaps Trevor Preston's script was a fairly standard, Get Carter-style revenge flick, with Hodges deciding at some point while shooting or in the editing room that watching Will deal with how Boad attacked Davey was more interesting. The end result is a fine little crime movie, if not an exceptional one.

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