Friday, June 1, 2007

Don't Sleep Yet

By Mike Gillis

The crime picture is a modern cliche. What was unique about the noir movement of the 1940's and 1950's or the bloody but literate films of the 1970's is now suffocating under the weight of the camera. So few crime pictures today pay homage to masterpieces like Stanley Kubrick's "The Killing", Billy Wilder's "Double Indemnity", or Carol Reed's "The Third Man" -- there are many more -- and instead aim for stylized mayhem.
Although I can appreciate the John Woos of the world, and can easily stomach the Quentin Tarantinos, the modern crime picture is a victim of cinematic crossfire.

Sam Peckinpah's affinity for slow-motion cinematography emphasized the violence in his pictures for poetic and unsettling effect. Now filmmakers would rather give us a well-polished .357, held to the side, gliding across the screen in an underlit nightclub. It's not the crime and its consequences that we're supposed to see, but the weapon and its power. The car and the accessories. The victim and the smartly-decorated penthouse.

That's why a film like 2004's "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead" is so refreshing. The picture, directed by Mike Hodges, whose credits include the original 1971 "Get Carter", arguably one of Michael Caine's best and cruelest roles, is a stark tale about a retired criminal, Will, played by Clive Owen, who returns to town to probe his brother's suicide.

Owen says little for almost half the film, but his performance is a superb example of the power of expression. I happen to think Owen is a fantastic if not underrated actor, who also wins kudos for last year's "Children of Men".

"I'll Sleep When I'm Dead" does not lean on the mechanics of film making. Hodges often chooses to tell the story with natural or available light, sparse locations, and without excessively coordinated action sequences or gee-whiz carnage. Ironically, the film's technical simplicity allows its tougher moments to linger, to resonate, to upset.

Its actors, including Malcolm McDowell, Charlotte Rampling and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, get a fighting chance to populate this dark little world that could be right around the corner.

Here's an excellent review of "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead" by Roger Ebert.

Buy it here:
I'll Sleep When I'm Dead

See the trailer: