Re: RARA-AVIS: Get Carter Redux?

From: Mark Sullivan (
Date: 14 Jul 2004

A couple of weeks ago, I asked if anyone had seen the movie I'll Sleep When I'm Dead and could tell me if it was simply a remake of director Michael Hodges's earlier film adaptation of Get Carter (the one with Michael Caine, not the later one with Sylvester Stallone, which I haven't seen). No one seemed to have seen it (though Jim sent a link to an opinion on imdb, thanks Jim), so I thought I'd give my own answer, now that I've seen it.

The premise is very similar -- a gangster comes back to town to find out how and why his brother died, to find out who is responsible. In both cases, the protagonist's presence disturbs the underworld status quo. However, there are some obvious differences in the execution. First, Carter was still an active gangster in London, going back to his smaller home town. Will Graham (the great Clive Owen) is an ex-gangster who comes back to the London he left three years earlier; he has been
"living rough," living in a van and working manual labor jobs off the books. Get Carter is very plot driven, following Carter as he finds out what happened and what he does about it. Sleep is character driven. Although Graham is intent on finding out what happened to his brother, there is some question what he will do about it, even if he will do anything about it.

This movie reminded me of westerns where a retired gunfighter must decide if he will strap on his guns once more. I don't want to say too much, but this movie even has the iconographic scene (brilliantly parodied in Cat Ballou) where the gunfighter pulls out and puts on his old clothes -- is that enough to revive the old persona? I will warn you that the ending is kind of nebulous, even by the standards of a Michael Hodges movie -- I'm not sure if it was an existential statement or Hodges just lost interest in the plot (I saw it twice in order to resolve that question, to no avail) -- but I did enjoy the movie quite a bit. Hodges's direction, Owens's acting and Simon Fisher Turner's evocative score (never calling attention to itself, but essential to the mood) team up to make a great character study of a man struggling with the man he was, trying to determine whether or not he has really left that man behind.

As much as I liked the movie, though, it really made me wish Hodges had adapted another Ted Lewis novel, GBH. That novel was about a gangster in self-exile as his empire is falling. Alone near a beach town, he slowly loses his hold on reality, both his understanding of what happened to him in the past and what is happening to him in the present. I'll Sleep When I'm Dead makes me think Hodges is the perfect person to bring this novel to the screen.


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