Arizona Daily Star
Even into his 60s, Malcolm McDowell forges a tenacious, threatening presence.
In the grimy, London-set crime film "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead," McDowell, 61, has a way of glaring straight through the screen, penetrating the viewer's eyes and slithering into a dark place of fear in the back of the mind.
He's not only tougher and more dangerous than you are, he's also smarter. He knows it, you know it, the other characters know it. McDowell is not a man you want to mess with - hasn't been since his shattering initiation way back in "A Clockwork Orange" (1971) - and even in a smallish role as a spindly old man, he still manages to dominate most any film he's in.
As a manipulative underground overlord named Boad, McDowell casts a looming shadow over the serpentine story of intimidation, loss and fiery revenge. Director Mike Hodges, working from a crackling Trevor Preston screenplay, casts out three separate stories involving seemingly unrelated people, forgoes plot advancement in favor of steeping the film in character and mood, then ties up all the loose elements into a tight bundle.
Exposition most definitely isn't a priority in "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead." We're tossed in without explanation to three miniature worlds, sketched in elaborate detail, then forced to play catch-up. The technique is a little aggravating, and may well lose impatient viewers, but once the larger picture begins to emerge, those who stick around will find it's tough to tear their eyes away.
One introduction segment involves Davey (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), a freewheeling partyboy who seems to be a self-assured creature of the urban drug culture. Another focuses on Will (Clive Owen), a bearded grunt laboring in the forest, who belies his hard exterior with a soft, caring side. We also meet Boad, ominously cruising through the streets, with two muscled underlings at his side.
An incident of jarring, seemingly random violence eliminates one of the characters and forces the other two on a collision course. Revenge is in order and inevitable.
To reveal any plot points would rob a viewing of "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead" of its sense of discovery, but it spoils nothing to say the film trembles with terse, gruff dialogue and delectable situations teeming in moral gray. And much of the dialogue hums like demented poetry:
I'm going to kill you. Not now. Not tonight. That would be too easy. Maybe next week. Maybe next month. You'll never know. Think about it. One day, one night, I'll be there.
The three main characters are shaped into multifaceted depth by the actors, and Charlotte Rampling is impressive as Helen, Will's wounded former girlfriend. Mickser (Jamie Foreman), a scrubby sidekick to both Will and Davey, provides some welcome comic relief to the otherwise gloomy fare.
Hodges, the grizzled veteran director of British film noir, has a résumé that includes the original "Get Carter" (1971) and "Croupier" (1998). Nothing close to flashy, Hodges' films are grinders and chiselers. Dry and satisfying.
© 2004 Will & Co./LAGOON ENTERTAINMENT LTD
"A British Classic.
- Ray Bennett, Hollywood Reporter