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PAUL SCHRADER DIRECTS WILLEM DAFOE IN LIGHT SLEEPER

Susan Sarrandon and William Defore YEAR: 1992
I feel my life turning... All it needed was a direction
Well Paul Schrader gave Willem Dafoe plenty of direction, having worked with him a handful of times, and he preferred the otherwise intense actor, who other directors would use as an angry, vicious or intense type of fella, to be desperate, laidback, vulnerable and sympathetic: In AUTO FOCUS, the true crime story of HOGAN'S HERO actor Bob Crane's sexual journey into out-of-control oblivion with the help of his go-to guy, was played by Dafoe, who might as well have been a controlled, even-keeled drug dealer like he is, literally, in LIGHT SLEEPER, since Crane, played by Greg Kinnear, got high on videotaping his sexcapades using, at that time, high-end recording equipment, thus depending on real life best friend and future number one murder suspect John Carpenter (not the HALLOWEEN director): both films couldn't be more different, sharing only Schrader and Defoe in common: two kings of edgy cinema made for each other...

Another Sleeper poster
"I feel my life turning," Defoe's lonely drug-dealer, John LeTour, ironically clean (liken to a sober bartender) and writing a journal with thoughts extremely reminiscent, in cadence and tone, of what put Paul Schrader on the map as the scriptwriter for TAXI DRIVER. "All it needed," Willem's LeTour continues, "was a direction."

Which, to Schrader, runs hand in hand with his writing, sustaining with his own projects, BLUE COLLAR and HARDCORE, where he put his characters out on a limb. But the main problem, right off the bat, with LIGHT SLEEPER is the soundtrack as practically every scene, including the opening credits, is given an audio roman chorus treatment by The Call's crooner Michael Been, sounding like if Bruce Springsteen were imitating Tom Waits in a morgue, and not even that good... Each song distracts from the intentionally sparse, Noir-guided tale of a drug dealer, working for a lioness in domestic cat's clothing played by Susan Sarandon, who remains a constant element of mystique after our brooding, askew anti-hero is pretty much figured out...

SleeperScore: ***
Mostly through that journal, liken to one of the "Steps" in Alcoholics or, in this case, Narcotics Anonymous, which SLEEPER feels subtle propaganda of – without being preachy and remaining ambiguous enough for an element of suspense possessing the film's wistful undercurrent of remorse and a sense of deadpan nostalgia for what Defoe, Sarandon and their partner, David Clennon's faithful Robert, used to have when things were good, including Dana Delaney as DeTour's "too good to be true" ex-girlfriend...

In that, LIGHT SLEEPER has plenty to be desired, which could be intentional since the main character, living in the city's shadows, has no purpose, really, until what must happen in any film rears up – a plot, purpose and agenda, also reminiscent of TAXI DRIVER only instead of protecting a young hooker, he's dead-set on avenging the tragic death of someone who flirted with that wild lifestyle and lost.
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