No two ways about it: Get Carter casts a huge, shotgun-shaped shadow over I'll Sleep When I'm Dead. But it's a shadow that Mike Hodges, director of both, shows no desire to sidestep.
From the basic plot - - hard man out to solve, then avenge, his brother's death - - to the bleak, grainy cinematography, I'll Sleep When I'm Dead deliberately sets itself up as a companion piece to Carter. It even presents a London so stripped of modern-day references that, aside from a couple of cars and a mobile phone, this could still be the early '70s capital of Jack Carter's days.
The question is: why? Well, mostly Hodges is trying to unsettle you. By foregrounding the Carter references, he fools the viewer into believing that similar situations are going to lead to similar outcomes. He's playing with the rules and using our knowledge of what should happen in gangster films - - and a Carter homage in particular - - to invite us into a string of narrative mantraps.
The biggest trap of all is simply thinking that this is a gangster movie. It's not . - At its surprisingly bloodless heart, I'll Sleep is really a Samurai film. Even if the themes of honour and redemption don't tip you off, the early moments in the Welsh woodlands ought to. As the jazz soundtrack morphs into strong single chords and the camera cuts from Clive Owen's dead-eyed features to the sword-thin trees above him, it's more Kurosawa than Scorsese.
Packed with backstory mysteries, the film is both clever and intricate. Is it significant that Will and his brother are so much better spoken than all the aitch-dropping Eastenders around them? How did Charlotte Rampling's older, posher woman enter their lives? And just why did Will leave London in the first place?
Intriguing, but a lack of narrative drive ultimately defeats it. Hodges frustrates expectations once too often, leaving the impression that while he knew exactly what he didn't want to do, he was never quite certain what he did intend. You can appreciate the mind at work here, but you'll miss Get Carter's thumping heart.