Review: I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead (2003, Mike Hodges, UK)
Iâ€™ll Sleep When Iâ€™m Dead is a downbeat but straightforward British gangster revenge movie with none of the America-friendly cheeky-Cockney-chappie charm of any of Guy Ritchieâ€™s films. Since itâ€™s from the director of Get Carter, what appears straightforward soon becomes multilayered and complicated.
Mike Hodges reunites to direct Clive Owen, who broke through in Hodgesâ€™ earlier arthouse hit Croupier (1998). Owen plays the brother of a male rape victim who committed suicide. Whilst the revenge in question takes place, the director is careful enough to make Owenâ€™s character the layman searching for reasons and answers for his brotherâ€™s death.
This slows the film down in pace to compensate its short (100min) length because Owenâ€™s character re-establishes contact with his old firm and has to resist their wish to return to their glory days. At the same time, his old rivals also threaten him, refusing to believe his wish to find his brotherâ€™s attackers and then leave London again. Charlotte Rampling provides the emotional heart of the movie and actually lists some of the effects of surviving abuse, but directs them at Owen rather than his brother. Every performance from the leads is cold, detached and understated, with the gangster flunkies providing the downbeat black humour.
This journey leads to the uncovering of his brotherâ€™s fate through a second autopsy and referral to a counsellor who frames one interpretation of the psychological effects of male rape for this character and the audience. These scenes help make the movie rise above the normal Brit gangster clichÃ©s (no matter how well-loved they might seem) and become useful to victims of abuse, who could then take or leave the rest of the film after taking what they need.
The film feels slow enough in pace to be a stage play rather than a movie, which has divided the audience and critics alike. An American setting would speed up the action, increase the profanity and glamorise the location; here, the low budget renders both the attacker and the head rival gangster displayed on screen, as living in normal houses with attempts to create prettier front doors, despite their nice cars â€“ itâ€™s very kitchen-sink and 1970s for a 2003 film and Owenâ€™s character doesnâ€™t clean up and forsake his rural lifestyle until near the end, to emphasise the return of his characterâ€™s murderous skills.
Also resembling the 1970s, at least two plot strands are left unresolved by the end, one annoying and clichÃ©d, the other more plausible though one of them links into the â€œend at the beginningâ€. Whilst Hodgesâ€™ enduring hit Get Carter had an ending, here itâ€™s left open to interpretation. By virtue of events you could basically use your imagination rather than the full stop applied to Hodgesâ€™ classic hit.
For survivorsâ€™ purposes though, the lack of a bow to giftwrap the plot strands, lets them concentrate on the victim and its effects as described. For trigger concerns the movie takes the same line as Midnight Express (1978) by cutting away once you are shown the start of the rape, and itâ€™s at that point that the movie is cut when shown on television. The movie loses none of its power when broadcast on a TV channel with a visible logo in the corner and the first time I viewed this, the breaks were necessary. If you want an action movie though, look elsewhere.