Stylish Revenge

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Davey (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is a small-time drug dealer and a big-time womanizer but also a cute, cheeky, likable guy, working the fringes of the London demimonde. One night, for no reason that director Mike Hodges and writer Trevor Preston care to make clear, a car dealer (a particularly malevolent Malcolm McDowell) and two henchmen abduct and brutally rape him. Davey commits suicide, and his terminally taciturn brother Will (Clive Owen, the star of Hodges' Croupier) returns to the criminal life from a rough rural retirement to avenge the kid's death.

I'll Sleep When I'm Dead's plot is as simple as that of a western (or, Hodges says, a samurai epic). The actors are more elements in a dark, elegantly realized landscape than fully incarnate characters. Among the things Hodges and Preston have stripped out of their film are all the usual explanations. What drove Will away from his successful criminal past? What does Charlotte Rampling's enigmatic restaurateur see in him? Instead, what we have to entertain us is style. As with Croupier, Hodges is not in any hurry to get to the point of his scenes, which are often quite underpopulated. He wants us to see rooms and streets as his characters do, in a slightly disoriented way.

The result is a curious air of menace that hangs over this movie. It is a slow-moving film, with too many loose ends left hanging for some tastes. And sometimes its self-consciousness is exasperating, as if Henry James unaccountably decided to write a crime novel. On the other hand, if you surrender to the film's often inexplicable rhythms, if you let its dark materials reach out and envelop you, it can be a curiously rewarding experience — a blend of silences and sudden bursts of violence that, despite its highly stylized manner, feels more edgily lifelike and more disturbing than most movies.