John LeTour is 40. That's a bad age for a delivery boy. He's been working for Ann longer than he cares to remember.

"You drift from day to day," he says. "Years pass."

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He knows he should be handling the business. He's good enough.

"I'm not the management type," he says. "If I take charge, I'll start using again."

Ann is a discreet New York dope dealer. She's older than John, still wears fashion outfits and skirts high on the thigh. She wants out. Crack is destroying the trust on the street and making people crazy. Things are changing. Always for the worse. She's scared a little now. She doesn't have the same confidence.

"Everybody's younger," John says.

It's not the same. A girl was murdered in the park the other night, not one of their contacts, but carrying cocaine nonetheless. A cop from homicide, who looks less than 30, roughs John up and tells him that if he hears anything to call in. He feels threatened.

"Is this it? Has my luck run out?"

John is gliding. He's been clean for two years. He lives alone in a bare room.

"I could be a good person."

He is meticulous, aware of the waste and madness of his years with Marianne, when they loved until they howled, doped until they dropped.

"We were happy," he tells her when they meet again.

"I was drowning," she says.

John has reached that time in his life when he wants to make amends. He behaves with responsibility towards Ann's clients. The dealer is the mother, taking care of the children, and he is the nurse providing the medicine. He's a man, like any other, dragging his reputation behind him. He has plans. Ann looks at him and smiles. She has heard it all before.

This isn't a film about the middle age of a tarnished romantic, who cannot retrieve happiness from the debris of lost youth. It cuts deeper than that. John has an honesty that isolates him.

"Everybody wants to talk," he says. "My philosophy is, if you've got nothing to say, don't talk."

Light Sleeper doesn't belong in any oeuvre. The feeling is personal, introspective, wounded. Willem Dafoe gives a performance of such painful intensity that the story folds around him like the wings of a bat, Writer/director Paul Schrader avoids mean street mechanics, macho posturing, pretty pastiche. Only at the end, unable to resist a sweetener, does he succumb to convention.

Nothing quite fits, which gives the film its originalitty. Susan Sarandon has the charm of a power player, with a subtle hint of vulnerability. Ann knows what she's doing, but feels ready for change. Old faces grow older, stale jokes start to stink, violence violates future prospects. Sarandon relishes the trepidation of a woman coming to terms with maturity, still manipulative, still reliable, but more accommodating now, less strident and secure.

Dafoe enters each role with courage and perception. He is dangerous, even when quiet. As an ex-addict, working for a dealer who respects the value of loyalty in a disloyal profession, he searches for redemption among the litter of a low life.

Reviewed on: 09 May 2003
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Light Sleeper packshot
A drug dealer 'sleep walking' through life begins to wonder about his trade.
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Director: Paul Schrader

Writer: Paul Schrader

Starring: Willem Dafoe, Susan Sarandon, Dana Delany, David Clennon, Mary Beth Hurt, Victor Garber, Jane Adams

Year: 1992

Runtime: 103 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


EIFF 1999

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