I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead Imprint Bluray Review – A Deeply Underrated Film Released On a Must Own Disc

Mike Hodges only made nine features yet is revered as an essential British filmmaker. Although he dabbled in other genres (for example pulp sci-fi with Flash Gordon, horror in his uncredited Omen II, and sci-fi dystopia with The Terminal Man) he’s primarily known for his work in crime. He brought a young Michael Caine to superstardom with his blazing first gangster feature 1971’s Get Carter. In 1998 he did the same for Clive Owens in 1998’s Croupier which although wasn’t a huge success in the U.K. garnered a strong audience in the USA. It was off the back of the American success of Croupier that he was able to finance his existential gangster film I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead in 2003 – the first time he went back into the director’s chair in five years after a long period trying to sort out funding for the project written by Trevor Preston.

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead received a somewhat muted reaction. Audiences were expecting a Get Carter redux. The premise was similar; a gangster is called back to his old turf to investigate the death of his brother, but instead of violent shoot outs the viewer was given an examination of the impact of trauma, a meditation on masculinity, and questions about whether it is ever possible for someone to escape their upbringing. I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead is a resoundingly downbeat film which is left somewhat open-ended. Although there are South London gangsters, even writer Preston (himself a product of hard London streets) declared the film not to be about gangsters at all. Audience expectations being somewhat undermined the film was mostly forgotten which Imprint Films have rectified by their excellent new 1080p HD presentation on the new disc. Re-evaluating I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead for what it is, rather than what it is not, proves it to be a deeply underrated work by two men who understood what violence can do to the psyche.

The film concerns Will Graham (Clive Owen in one of his most subtle and powerful performances) an ex-gangster who left South London and his successful life of crime behind for reasons that are never explicitly given. He’s working in a rural area as a manual labourer and living in a book-lined van. He is bearded, isolated, and ready to move if someone asks for his identity. Meanwhile, his younger brother Davey (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) is running a small drug dealing enterprise and using his charm and undeniable good looks to swagger across the night-lit streets of London seducing women and engaging in petty theft.

Davey hasn’t heard from Will in a long time, at some stage Will stopped writing. He’s warned by a friend that Will wouldn’t like him dealing, but Davey is a callow youth and impressed by his own perceived smoothness. He’s been left in the care of Micksey (Jamie Foreman, an actor whose father was actually a London gangster) who was Will’s former driver and is now Davey’s best friend.

One night after a party where Davey deals some coke and picks up a model for sex he is slowly stalked by a black car. What happens is shocking. Davey is pulled into an alleyway and then a shed and brutally raped by Boad (Malcolm McDowell). The scenes that follow are some of the best acting Rhys-Meyers achieved in his career (which although is not over, is certainly no longer thriving). Davey, in a state of shock stumbles home in immense pain, runs a bath in which he lies in for hours fully clothed and then cuts his own throat.

Will, is on the move again when the logging foreman asks for his identification. He’s about to drive on to a ferry and disappear even further, when he hallucinates seeing Davey. He calls but no-one answers. There is an instinct that tells him that something is wrong, and he drives back to the one place he was hoping to never return, London.

What occurs from that point on is Will re-entering his world but still trying to stay on the periphery of it. He once owned multiple properties and nightclubs. His gang want him to “be back” and he can’t be. He’s there for one reason; to find out why Davey killed himself. As he finds the answer the very notion of masculinity begins to crumble for him and Micksey. Male rape is not something that is even considered amongst the coterie of men in Will’s world. The act dehumanises and humiliates Davey and by extension, Will. Although Will doesn’t want to be Will Graham, legendary gang leader, or even properly investigate his own past, including his relationship with the middle-class, Helen (Charlotte Rampling) he can’t let what happened to Davey go unpunished.

What Mike Hodges and Trevor Preston bring to the table is a film about inevitability. Will can never be free of his past and violence is burned into his nature. There is a sombre dreamlike nature to the film which takes place mostly at night. The dark is supposed to cover a multitude of sins, but instead in Will’s world it is where sin happens in the open.

Understanding I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead as a meditation instead of a thriller gives it the power that Hodges and Preston intended. No questions are truly answered; even Boad’s reasoning for his actions are small and filled with a pathetic generational jealousy. The women in the film, Sylvia Sims as Davey’s landlady, and Charlotte Rampling as Helen are on the periphery. Boad’s wife is seen through a window. Davey’s lovers are discarded and unimportant. A woman who holds a vital clue for Micksey is there only for the narrative to continue. It is a man’s world and becoming un-manned is a fate worse than death.

The audio commentary with Hodges and Preston explains how they created the work in just twenty-eight days and how they managed to sustain the slow tension of the film through mostly set pieces and Owens’ performance. I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead is worthy of re-evaluation and praise, especially in light of the information Hodges and Preston impart. What indeed is the price of vengeance?

The disc also comes with special features including a documentary about the film, two deleted scenes, and the theatrical trailer. With both Hodges and Preston now sadly gone I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead is a must own and a remarkable insight into Hodges’ processes as a filmmaker.

Director: Mike Hodges

Cast: Clive Owen, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Malcolm McDowell

Writer: Trevor Preston

Bluray provided by Imprint for an honest review.

Nadine Whitney

Nadine Whitney holds qualifications in cinema, literature, cultural studies, education and design. When not writing about film, art or books, she can be found napping and missing her cat.

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