With his sensibility still vinyl-skipping somewhere in 1965, Brit would-be auteur Mike Hodges seems an unlikely candidate for re-emergence, and Croupier, his autumnal calling card, still looks like the most lackluster career maker of the fin de siècle. His new film, the Jim Thompson–esquely titled I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, wallows in the same affected retro stylishness as the earlier film, suffers from the same lack of narrative focus, and is just as choked with clichés. (The opening credits are designed as crime-novel typography illuminated by passing headlights—stretch, yawn.) If neo-noir, and neo-neo-noir, are in fact dead—and pray that they are—the news has yet to travel the Atlantic.
Clive Owen is back, as a mysterious, bearded bloke living off the grid in a van for reasons we’re never terribly clear about; in a parallel scenario, Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays a bird-lovin’ coke dealer bopping around London until a malevolent Malcolm McDowell, accompanied by thugs, pulls him into an alley and rapes him in the ass. After Meyers’s party boy cuts his own throat in the bath the next day, various peripheral characters (including disenchanted acquaintance Charlotte Rampling and mawkish buddy Jamie Foreman) mourn, but it is an hour into this idle misfire before we understand that Owen’s Man of Few Words will return from the wilderness and become the Older Brother Out for Vengeance. Thus, Hodges gets to recook Get Carter with a dash of The Limey, and borrows a cuppa thrice-fried Deliverance beans while he’s at it.
Hodges is clearly attempting a restrained, art-film ellipticism by letting us know very little about his characters, but because everyone’s working hard at being underworld-movie cool, we come away utterly empty-handed. The cathartic assault we’re implicitly promised never comes, and story threads left dangling after the is-that-it? ending only compel us to ask why we had bothered wondering. (McDowell’s buttfucker doesn’t even turn out to be a megalo crime boss or anything like it, but a straight car dealer who, get this, just didn’t like Meyers’s looks.) Most strangely, Hodges’s film (written by Trevor Preston) picks over that anal rape and its humiliated fallout so hysterically you begin to smell an antiquated homophobia mummifying in the film’s shadowy corners.