Fatal Distraction

The director of Get Carter gets back with the British mobsters

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DIRECTED BY Mike Hodges

STARRING Clive Owen, Malcolm McDowell, Charlotte Rampling

Opened April 30, Cert 15, 104 mins

This is Mike Hodges’ first gangster movie since 1971’s Get Carter, that milestone Brit-flick whose screenplay has become as familiar as the Dead Parrot Sketch. I’ll Sleep… is slower and broodier, and lacks the vicious graveyard humour of its predecessor, yet like Carter it pivots around the story of a gangster travelling across country to revenge his dead brother.

Clive Owen is Will Graham, a London crime boss who’s retired to rural Wales following a mental breakdown. When his brother Davey (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), an apprentice hoodlum, commits suicide, Will throws off the squalor of his life in the country and returns to London and his carefully preserved hard-man paraphernalia to find out why.

The sequence where down-at-heel Will locks himself in a hotel room, then emerges pressed, shaved and hard as gunmetal, is the film’s definitive moment. Hodges has devised a promising set-up for a gripping revenge drama, and secured a superb cast, with the shadowy and intense Owen comfortably holding his own alongside veterans like McDowell and Rampling.

Yet while the location sequences in Brixton and Clapham reek of incipient violence, Hodges and screenwriter Trevor Preston appear to have been trying to create a myth or a fable as much as a realistic drama, which is where the problems begin. “I have often thought of I’ll Sleep… as a Samurai film,” Hodges has commented. “As with Jack Carter, Will Graham can’t escape his past.”

It’s a plausible notion, and Owen’s haunted stare frequently suggests a man driven by a fate he can’t control, but too often it looks as if they’ve peopled the movie with static archetypes and left the audience to fill in the gaps where the plot was supposed to go. We can probably manage to sketch in the past love affair between Will and restaurant owner Helen (a somewhat monotone Rampling), but the vile act of brutality from McDowell’s sinister businessman Boad which triggers Will’s vengeful comeback arrives without context or motivation. Likewise, the film’s ending abruptly saws off a major Owen/Rampling plot strand and leaves it hanging in mid-air, as if a couple of scenes went missing in the final edit.

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead contains some potentially lethal ingredients, but somebody left this cake out in the rain.

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