The film, "Before Sunset" is, literally, all talk. No narrative deprivation.
If there were an oscar for volubility, there'd be no competition. "I'll Sleep
When I'm Dead" is its complement, the yang of "Before Sunset's" yin, where to
speak borders on illegal.
Into its dour, nourish atmosphere steps a master of the laconic brooding
central figure, Clive Owen, who gives us ex-kingpin Will Graham, a rare
crime leader who develops a conscience and retreats to a simpler, honest
life. He's "born-again" decent. But, if you think this supposition is a
little questionable, wait'll you see where it's going.
Bringing him back home, to the city he once ruled, is his brother Davey's
(Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) sudden disappearance. It takes few spoken words (but
half the movie) for him to discover that his flashy, opportunist sibling is
dead. Now, Will is forced to remain in the city where he scours the underworld
as well as the inhabitants of his former life in order to unravel the
mystery. He may have given up his criminal ways, but the code of revenge is
alive and well.
His rounds bring him back to his jaded, refined former lover Helen (Charlotte
Rampling, "Swimming Pool") and to Boad (Malcolm McDowell), the rich car
dealer and a degenerate villain if ever there was one.
Director Mike Hodges who devised a surprise hit from his previous
collaboration with Owen on "Croupier," works from an original screenplay here
by Trevor Preston in an attempt to repeat the formulation of understated
charisma, fringes of society, obsessions, and unruly compulsions. What he
failed to see was the enervating effect of his hero's insistence on
prolongued word economy, as though it were the mark of fascinating
Owen's unarguable skill with expressive understatement might have worked.
But its overuse makes it a device that backfires, aided by the sad-sack
costuming of the character as a lumberjack. His loose, back woods attire is
a device to visually emphasize the eventual re-emergence of the classy,
feared kingpin as he shifts to the dark suited, gun-toting,
justice-seeking bossman that the creative team knows he is. The problem is,
the transformation comes way late and our regard for the character has been
formed. By the time he makes his transformation, the sleepers may be in the
audience and they may miss Owen's mesmerizing voice when he does, finally,
start speaking. Some of the threat may be blunted when he repeats his
fear-inducing mantra, "I'm Davey's brother."
The structure of the story is the fault zone. The loathsome act that opens
the movie begs for discovery and justice but is virtually disregarded until
the last act when all the false connections are dispelled and we have to face
up to the fact that we've been through a mine field of duds. By an
investigative thread of clues, the writers manage to bring us around to the
killer when it seems almost coincidental to the avenger's stroll down memory
lane, which comprises the main body of the tale. It would seem that the
creative team became too involved in making a case for their idea that a man
can't escape his past.
The dark, noirish visual atmosphere reflects the human psychopathia that
pervades the drama and drives its search for justice, but it finally comes
off as a wasted opportunity. The unique quality of Owen's laconic intensity
was, perhaps, most memorably applied in the extraordinary BBC TV series,
"Second Sight." His Ross Tanner was a Chief Investigator going blind and
hiding it -- a finely-realized concept that casts some shame on this little
outing that imprisons him in a verbal straight-jacket.
~~ Jules Brenner