Like Mike Hodges’ best-known film, the 1971 thriller Get
Carter, I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead’s central premise
sees a man out to avenge his brother’s death. Unfortunately
thirty years have passed since Get Carterwas made, and the
majority of the filmic conceits that Hodges transfers to his more
recent film have passed into parody. The noirish touches –
the cornball title, the opening credits (black lettering caught
in a lamplight glare) – recall postmodern pastiches such as
Stephen Frears’ Gumshoe. And the portentous dialogue, which
might have rung out like urban poetry in a pulp fable such as
Polanski’s Chinatown, sounds plain clumsy when filtered
through Cockney dialects as thick as toffee. Worst of all is the film’s protagonist, Will Graham.
Clive Owen, arguably one of Britain’s most charismatic
leading men, does his best with the role, but even the most
nuanced performance fails to save this walking cliché. When Will
snarls, dead-pan, “I’m always on the move. I trust
nothing, no-one”, it serves only to inspire a kind-of
collective eyeroll in the audience. Even if this kind of speech
had not been given by Pee-wee Herman (in Peewee’s Big
Adventurehe warns: “You don’t want to get mixed up with
a guy like me. I’m a loner. A rebel.”) it would deserve
to be mocked, along with any narcissistic would-be touch nut who
feels the need to describe himself to anyone who will listen. And in fact, the film’s potential strength lies in its
undermining of such bravado. The inclusion of a male rape, serves
to shake the macho blockades erected, if you’ll pardon the
pun, by the film’s innumerable hard men, causing them to
question their own masculinity as well as the victim’s. On
hearing about the rape from Will, Davey’s friend Mickser
splutters, “Davey was… He was not bent! Fuck you!”
The choice of profanity is certainly revealing of the close
proximity between sex and violence in male culture. But such subtleties are overshadowed by over-explicit
explanations and heavy-handed imagery, such as the rested inserts
of the gun that, in an image of Freudian clarity, Mickser stows
in his glove compartment. Preston seems to have taken whatever
research he did on male rape and cut and pasted it into the
middle of the movie. Two encounters, one with a coroner, the other with a
councillor, abandon dialogue almost entirely, halting the
narrative for a extended seminar on the psychology of rape. So
while Hodges’ intentions may be honourable, the
disappointing result is that I’ll Sleep When I’m
Deadends up looking suspiciously like a certain late-night
edition of Hollyoaks.ARCHIVE: 6th week TT 2004