I'll Sleep When I'm Dead (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Dennis Seuling
  • Review Date: May 18, 2023
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
  • Bookmark and Share
I'll Sleep When I'm Dead (Blu-ray Review)


Mike Hodges

Release Date(s)

2003 (April 7, 2023)


Paramount Classics (Imprint/Via Vision)
  • Film/Program Grade: B-
  • Video Grade: A-
  • Audio Grade: B+
  • Extras Grade: A

I'll Sleep When I'm Dead (Blu-ray)

Buy it Here!


[Editor's Note: This is a Region-Free Blu-ray import from Australia.]

Can a violent person change? Or, no matter how much he tries to suppress violent tendencies, can he not exorcise them completely? Those are the questions posed in the crime drama I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead.

Will Graham (Clive Owen) was once a big man in south London. When people speak of him, it seems he is legendary, though we don’t know why he has earned such a reputation. Nowadays, however, he’s living in a camper in Wales and working in the forest, with minimal human contact and an inner darkness simmering just below the surface.

Back in London, his younger brother Davey (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) makes a living selling drugs to wealthy, attractive women. Handsome and stylish, he’s admired by everyone. However, when Will tries to call him, Davey doesn’t answer. Will fears that this bodes ill and feels compelled to investigate. As he approaches London, his anxiety escalates so intensely that he becomes physically sick.

Will’s return causes concern among some who would prefer to see him dead (Malcolm McDowell) and others (Charlotte Rampling) who want him to be the man they remember. As we learn more and more of Will’s backstory, we discover why his presence back in London creates tension. A man of few words, with an intensity and a focus that don’t waver, Will powers through every obstacle he encounters. His search returns him to an underworld of organized crime that he felt was long behind him.

Owen uses facial expression and body language to convey Will’s feelings, which are never overtly revealed. He’s always thinking, calculating, putting puzzle pieces together, and assessing as he tries to figure out what has happened to Davey and why. With a smoldering demeanor, he’s an imposing figure as he re-enters a dark past he’d rather forget. Owen is reminiscent of Bogart in his 1940s gangster roles. When Owen is on screen, we’re captivated. Even though his underplaying keeps Will at a distance, we root for him.

Meyers plays Davey as a charming rascal rather than a low-life thug. His good looks and engaging behavior enable him to crash elegant parties and afford him access to rich women who are ready customers for the cocaine he so easily provides for a price. A small-time hustler, he beds pretty women and sneaks valuables and cash out of their handbags. With a knowing twinkle in his eyes and an irresistible smile, he moves through his world with self-assurance and impunity.

McDowell has little screen time as Boad, a sadistic businessman who’s ticked off by Davey’s popularity and swagger and decides to demean him in a horrifying manner. This is a guy with ice running through his veins who cares only about himself and has the power to ruin lives. McDowell’s Boad is a reptilian monster attired in finery.

Director Mike Hodges (Get Carter) provides a portrait of a grim, nighttime world of gangsters. Gloomy and somber, the area is rife with vice and offers individuals like Davey the perfect environment to make a buck beyond the eyes of the law. Hodges paces I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead slowly as the stories of the two brothers gradually converge. He creates suspense by having several characters react to Will, who initially is a blank canvas. We are curious. Will is known and feared in his old haunts, but why? Interestingly, Hodges keeps the threat of violence in the foreground, and even a key disturbing scene is free of excessive graphic bloodshed. It reveals a man’s ability to debase a fellow human being and sets up the motivation for Will to abandon his inner struggle to suppress his brutality.

An ensemble drama more than a revenge thriller, the film examines relationships between the central characters—Will Graham, his former lover Helen (Rampling), his brother Davey, and Davey’s friend Mickster (Jamie Foreman). Sylvia Sims and Ken Stott fill out the supporting cast as, respectively, Davey’s befuddled landlady and a crime boss who has a problem with Graham’s reappearance.

The film was shot by director of photography Mike Garfath with spherical lenses on 35 mm film and presented in the widescreen aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The Blu-ray features an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The color palette is dark, with blacks, browns, deep greens, and grays dominating. Scenes featuring Davey are bright with more vivid hues. A scene in a tunnel features eerie blue light. The overall look of the film is dark, reflecting the story’s subject matter. Clarity is diminished by the film’s many dimly lit scenes. Often, images appear washed out, as if color has been purposely desaturated. In one scene, Will literally emerges from shadow into the light as he decides on a major course of action. Details such as Davey’s clothing, rain-soaked night streets reflecting people and objects, and decor at a party are nicely delineated.

Two soundtrack options are available: English 5.1 DTS-HD Surround and 2.0 LPCM Stereo. Optional English SDH subtitles are available. Dialogue is clear for the most part, though Clive Owen speaks very softly in most scenes and I had to raise the volume to understand him. Because there are no special effects, there aren’t many sound effects other than a single gun shot. In another scene, painful screams accompany a savage attack. The score by Simon Fisher Turner is rather bland with its tinkling piano and fails to add drama.

Bonus features on this Region-Free Blu-ray release from Imprint Films include the following:

  • Audio Commentary by Mike Hodges and Trevor Preston
  • Mike Hodges and I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead (26:01)
  • Deleted Scene #1 (2:05)
  • Deleted Scene #2 (:31)
  • Theatrical Trailer (2:19)

In their commentary, director Mike Hodges and screenwriter Trevor Preston discuss the simplicity of the story. Initially, the property did not have a big name attached, which made it difficult to secure a distributor, Finally, Clive Owen expressed interest and things started moving faster. Hodges didn’t know south London very well so he explored the area with his production designer seeking the film’s locations. All locations chosen were within walking distance of each other. Davey’s character is established within the first few minutes he’s on screen. He lives in the shadow of his older brother. Will’s character is far more enigmatic. The film contains relatively little exposition, with characters’ actions telling the story. Will’s life in the country is a reflection of his former life in London. When Will is seen back in London, some believe he’s back to resume his place in the local crime scene. The film highlights a variety of individuals who exist in the world of nighttime London. Many scenes were filmed in a single, extended shot, which Hodges refers to as “risky business” because the lack of changing images might bore the viewer. However, because of the brief 28-day shooting schedule, it was necessary to accelerate filming as much as possible. Thematically, the film is saying that “you can’t escape from your past.” Hodges refers to Charlotte Rampling and Clive Owen as minimalist actors. With Rampling, “her eyes are everything.” Helen and Will are very different from each other and there’s a brief discussion about what draws dissimilar individuals together. Fearing that a scene in which a doctor speaks in detail about the attack on Davey could have brought the film to a halt, Hodges hired the best actor he could. To indicate a kind of futility to Will’s life, Hodges uses a scene of Will hitting golf balls into the sea as a metaphor.

Mike Hodges and I'll Sleep When I'm Dead – The film is “one big flashback” bookended by Will Graham standing on a beach. It’s about a man quelling the violence within himself; it’s not just about criminality. The film was made on a modest budget with a short shooting schedule. The film suggests a “mythical London.” The streets were wet down to create a “great cinematic feeling.” To keep costs down, the old-fashioned technique of rear projection is used in scenes where characters ride in cars. Periodically a narrator relates story points. On-set behind-the-scenes footage is shown. Clive Owens notes that “every scene appears to be a big, powerful one.” Will Graham is a blank slate, his past revealed in pieces. Charlotte Rampling discusses Mike Hodges’ directing style, emphasizing that he doesn’t require multiple takes once he gets what he wants from the actors. Malcolm McDowell says it’s a pleasure working with a director who knows what he’s doing. Hodges humbly hopes that I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead will provide satisfaction to viewers.

Deleted Scene #1 – This scene is accompanied by audio commentary by Mike Hodges. He likes the scene and believes it was well acted but needed to eliminate it to maintain balance in the film. With an atmospheric jazz background, the scene reveals that Davey is not the kind of person he’s thought to be.

Deleted Scene #2 – Will Graham sits silently in his car at night, watching and waiting.

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead has a snail-like pace and an overall lack of energy that hurt its impact. The Will Graham character is enigmatic for a reason, yet he’s never clearly defined. We never know about the relationship between the brothers, particularly since they appear to be quite apart in years. The film is somber, with little humor to relieve the grimness. Meyers’ Davey stands out because he enjoys his life and McDowell does some scenery-chewing in his few scenes. Jamie Foreman, as Mickster, excels among the supporting cast, but much of the acting is so low key, the characters never emerge fully. A B-movie at heart, I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead has a script by Trevor Preston, a British TV writer who fails to give the film some needed cinematic dazzle.

- Dennis Seuling