Did someone really need to make any more movies when they had directed the iconic Get Carter (the original one, not the Sylvester Stallone remake)? If you were the late Mike Hodges, well … yes, I guess you chose to direct eight more films, including 1980’s Flash Gordon. But when it came to the final work of his career, 2003’s I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, Hodges seems to have remembered: Yeah, I’m the guy who directed Get Carter and now I’m going to deconstruct the whole thing.
This excellent, tight British crime thriller is another great excavation of a long-lost gem from the Imprint label — dismantling all the gangster cool that propelled Hodges’ debut with Michael Caine as the iconic crook. Sleep follows much the same premise: Will (Clive Owen, who previously worked for Hodges on Croupier) is a gangster seeking vengeance on those he believes responsible for the death of his brother (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers).
Will basically spends most of Sleep resembling the man he’s lived as in rural England, quite the opposite of Owen’s gangster chic in marketing materials (or Caine’s appearance in Get Carter). Tearing down the template you set up more than 30 years ago is a gusty, respectable move that makes for a good movie. Owen is crucially cast here, anchoring a character who speaks little but sells a lot with his posture, mannerisms and looks. This isn’t guns-blazing Owen a la Sin City or Shoot ’Em Up; instead, it’s a bit more reminiscent of Johnnie To’s Election films albeit far from that high bar.
Another worldwide first from Imprint (and displayed here in a clean 1080p Blu-ray), Sleep features no new extras but isn’t bereft of them. Hodges and screenwriter Trevor Preston offer commentary. There’s also a documentary about Hodges, two deleted scenes and a trailer. Imprint continues to excel at evocative subtitling, impressively capturing the mood of scenes and swiftly but strongly describing what happens outside of the dialogue. Sleep will never beat Get Carter in terms of hallowed British crime films, but it’s certainly worth a look for Hodges’ high level of technical craft and Owen’s performance — a compelling story succinctly told.