Adequately compelling little film noir about former London mobster Will Graham (Clive Owen, whose big break came in Hodges' previous film Croupier) who, after retiring from crime and spending three years bearded and anonymous, living in his trailer in the forest, returns to his old haunts when he suspects that something has happened to his arrogant little brother Davey - suspicions that prove correct once Davey is found dead in his bathtub, an apparent suicide.
The twist here is that, unlike the standard film noir setup where our hero has to track down and get revenge on his brother's killer, Will in fact is after Davey's rapist (Malcolm McDowell, always there when the script calls for an aging British scumbag), believing that Davey killed himself out of the shame he felt over being raped. This disturbing angle to a shopworn setup sets I'll Sleep When I'm Dead apart from your standard thriller, as the aftermath of male rape proves to be so incomprehensible to tough guy Will and his thuggish pals that it forces them to re-examine their own feelings about Davey and about themselves.
This is a tricky film to review, actually, because there is so much purposeful ambiguity that it renders a traditional examination of plot rather useless. Charlotte Rampling (not as good as usual, perhaps because Hodges is not good at directing women) has some sort of relationship to both Will and Davey, but it's never explained. And not to ruin any surprise, but we never really learn how McDowell's character came to know Davey in the first place.
Given the film's slow pace, minimal dialogue, atonal score, and staid camerawork, I suspect Hodges and screenwriter Trevor Preston aren't interested in telling a tale of vengeance so much as they are in creating a character sketch of a particular man in a particular situation. It's a mood piece, if you will. For his part, Owen is up to the task, full of focused brooding that cracks only when he begins to comprehend the true impact of rape. The film also paints a bleak landscape of the real London - charmless, ugly, depressed, a far cry from the Big Ben/rolling Thames postcard view you usually see in movies.
I'll Sleep When I'm Dead is a good old fashioned art film, hazy and deep (and just slightly pretentious) enough to inspire post-viewing conversation between you and your movie-going partner. There is something unsatisfying about it that I can't put my finger on, but it's not enough to keep me from recommending it.