An atmospheric urban film noir, I'll Sleep When I'm Dead almost makes up in ambiance what it lacks in drama. The story is a classic revenge tale: former hard man Will Graham (Clive Owen, granite jawed beneath a mound of facial shag pile) returns to London vowing to go straight. When he discovers that his drug-dealing younger brother (Jonathan Rhys-Myers) is not only dead, but has been brutally buggered by reigning gangland thug Boad (Malcolm McDowell), Graham's trapped between his past and his honour.
Described by director Mike Hodges as a samurai film about "man's constant attempt to climb out of the slime", I'll Sleep When I'm Dead has all the elements of a cracking Brit-noir. Set in the rarely seen streets of Brixton, it boasts a moody jazz saxophone score and some rainy, Raymond Chandler-esque sidewalks that twinkle with gaudy menace as the streetlamps reflect in the puddles. In this world of gangland ties, men are men, death is death, and "non-consensual buggery" is the ultimate humiliation.
"THE FILM'S PLAYING AT HALF SPEED"
Scripted in broad, elliptical strokes by screenwriter Trevor Preston, this could have been a gritty follow-up to Hodges' unexpected casino thriller hit Croupier. The hook here is our desire to know who these characters are and what connection they have to one another. But it's typical of the film's incoherence that we're never enlightened (is Charlotte Rampling playing Owen's mother, lover or both?). As the revenge plot plays itself out with formulaic earnestness - "If you stay, it will destroy you" warns Rampling unnecessarily - it feels as though the film's playing at half speed.
No modern day Melville, Hodges lets this 'samurai' flick grind towards an over-familiar climax, mythologising its well-worn characters without ever telling their stories. With little investment in their fates and little understanding of their real motives, it's a moribund movie that's caught napping far in advance of its final breath.