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With: Clive Owen, Charlotte Rampling, Malcolm McDowell, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Jamie Foreman, Ken Stott, Sylvia Syms, Alexander Morton
Written by: Trevor Preston
Directed by: Mike Hodges
MPAA Rating: R for language, a rape scene, violent images and brief drug use
Running Time: 103
Date: 05/16/2003

I'll Sleep When I'm Dead (2004)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Insomniac Theater

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

A cult director if there ever was one, Mike Hodges specializes in refined crime pictures in which the players have a sense of acceptance, and even doom. Over his lengthy career, this veteran director has only completed nine theatrical films, and that's including a couple of duds like Morons from Outer Space and A Prayer for the Dying, as well as a job-for-hire on the 1980 blockbuster Flash Gordon.

But his fans love him for Get Carter, Pulp, The Terminal Man and Croupier. That latter was made in 1998 and received a small U.S. release in 2000 thanks to the Shooting Gallery series. The film became such a word of mouth hit that it played well past its intended two-week shelf life, earned a re-release in England and revitalized the director's career.

Even so, he took his time before this follow-up, I'll Sleep When I'm Dead, saw the light of day. A nocturnal noir, the film reunites Hodges with his stonily handsome Croupier star Clive Owen, also in this week's King Arthur.

The film begins with a series of seemingly disconnected storylines. Davey (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) is a young, charismatic drug dealer -- with John Coltrane posters decorating his apartment -- who runs in upper-class circles. On his way home from a successful deal and a shag with a model, a group of tough guys jump him and drag him into an alley where Boad (Malcolm McDowell) rips off his pants and buggers him.

Davey's best mate Mickser (Jamie Foreman) turns up hours later at Davey's flat only to discover the latter's corpse floating in a tub of cold bath water and blood.

Meanwhile, Davey's brother Will Graham (Owen) lives in the woods, sleeping in a van, growing out his beard and wearing a thick flannel shirt. He works odd lumber jobs but heads back to London after losing his latest one.

Once there, he looks up an old flame, Helen (Charlotte Rampling) but also learns of his brother's death.

Admittedly, not a lot of I'll Sleep When I'm Dead really makes sense. It's only a coincidence that Will happens to return to London just when his brother dies. Helen doesn't really fit into the story at all, other than the fact that all film noirs need a femme fatale of some sort. And a secondary gang that roams the streets, led by Turner (Ken Stott), continuously threatens Will, even though it never comes to anything.

Fortunately, none of this really matters. Hodges' beautiful rhythms keep everything in play, and we always have an idea of who everyone is and what they want. Characters move in their own dark stomping grounds with confidence and familiarity. It almost feels comfortable in a weird way.

In Martin Scorsese's After Hours, Dick Miller gives away a free cup of coffee to the film's hapless hero, claiming that different rules apply late at night. I'll Sleep When I'm Dead is precisely the kind of film that should be seen by insomniacs at some ungodly hour of the night. (The title itself supports this theory.) The plot doesn't matter so much as the mood and the film's cozy grooves. Only an expert of Hodges' rank could craft a film so baffling and yet so engaging and cool.

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