Dir: Mike Hodges. USA/UK. 2003. 103 mins

Midway between a psychological thriller and a tough action movie, with a touch of existential soul-searching but never really making up its mind which way to go, Mike Hodges' new film looks better than it actually is and promises much more than it actually delivers. This is another revenge binge from the author of the almost mythical Get Carter. But if, for a while, it seems ready to explode at any moment, when it finally does, it is with a fizzle rather than bang. Once a Cannes hopeful that ultimately landed in the Moscow competition, I'll Sleep When I'm Dead will have a hard time finding its way into a large theatrical release before hitting the inevitable home-video market.

Will Graham (Clive Owen) once an imposing figure in London's underworld, is now a recluse, living on his own in the back of a van, away from the city. His younger brother, Davey (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), a pretty boy out for easy money and sex, is a small-time drug dealer catering to the fancy sets, delivering his merchandise at fashionable parties. One night, however, he is followed on his way home by a black car. Two goons grab him in a back alley and pin him down while a third, much older, brutally rapes him. Barely reaching home in a state of total shock, Davey soaks fully clothed in his bath and is found, 12 hours later, with his throat cut.

Will comes back to town and, dissatisfied with the coroner's verdict of suicide, launches his own private investigation to find out what the audience has already learned. Relying on intuition and luck more than courage, muscle or powers of deduction, Will uncovers the trail that leads to the rape and its culprits and takes care of them without any help, despite the advice he has given by some to relent and disappear for his own health.

Trevor Preston, whose best credits are on television, provides a script that relies too often on formulas and cliches and never provides sufficient material to lend substance to the various characters. Hodges, ably assisted by Mike Garfath's camera, does his best to fill the gaps with atmospheric night sequences and dramatic but rather inconclusive confrontations, moving his characters in and out of frames in a manner that always has something threatening about it, though the threat rarely materialises.

Plot details are left unresolved at critical moments, and action scenes that should be essential are skipped over, as if irrelevant to the fabric of the characters - which might be a possible excuse, if all of these characters were not two-dimensional. In these circumstances, Clive Owen's cinematic presence is insufficient to flesh out the part, while the supporting cast, including veterans such as Malcolm McDowell and Charlotte Rampling, are not quite sure what is required of them, beyond the repetition of scenes they have often played before.

Prod co Will and Company Productions, for Revere/Seven Arts Pictures
Prods Mike Kaplan, Michael Corrente
Exec prod Roger Marino
Scr Trevor Preston
US distrib Paramount Classics
Int. sales Seven Arts International
Cinematography Mike Garfath
Ed Paul Carlin
Prod des Jon Bunker
Music Simon Fisher Turner
Main cast Clive Owen, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Malcolm McDowell, Charlotte Rampling, Ken Stott, Sylvia Syms