Written by: Christopher O’Neill on August 19th, 2009
Theatrical Release Date: UK, January, 1996
Director: Scott Mitchell
Writer: Ray Villis
Cast: Rupert Graves, Annabella Sciorra, Michael Gambon, Graham Crowden, Franco Nero
DVD released: July 6th, 2009
Approximate running time: 95 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2:35:1 Widescreen (4X3)
Rating: 15 (UK)
Sound: Dolby Digital Stereo English
DVD Release: Bluebell Films
Region Coding: Region 2 PAL
Retail Price: £9.99
Released theatrically in 1996, THE INNOCENT SLEEP was an independent feature that, even at the time, seemed curiously out of step with other contemporary British pictures. Lacking the gritty realism, eclectic soundtrack and overt violence generally associated with modern London-based thrillers, the filmmakers instead hark back to the crime pictures of the 50s and 60s with picturesque visuals, grandiose music score and a restrained depiction of brutality. This approach is not only refreshing but also favorable to the overall execution, since it allows for the thoughtful screenplay to leisurely develop its quirky and flawed characters, while director Scott Mitchell is able to nurture excellent performances from his cast. Rupert Graves, using an acceptable Liverpudlian accent, delivers a likable performance as the desperate and confused Alan, but it is Annabella Sciorra who really excels as crusading journalist Billie Hayman. A fine actress who has demonstrated throughout her career to possess a strong and believable screen presence, she is the essential element that holds THE INNOCENT SLEEP together. Michael Gambon is suitably sinister and foul-mouthed as the corrupt detective, while Graham Crowden conveys a touching and sympathetic presence as a figure whose life has been destroyed by alcohol. Franco Nero contributes an extended cameo and his reserved yet calculating manner is invaluable to the picture, since he alone represents the personification of corporate evil.
Unfortunately, while there is much to enjoy about THE INNOCENT SLEEP, there are also some significant flaws which ultimately prove fatal to the picture succeeding as a whole. Considering the implications that its protagonist – as a homeless man – is deemed easily expendable in modern society, there could have been many social aspects to the screenplay which are not so much underdeveloped, but simply ignored. Likewise, the high-ranking corruption is never illustrated beyond a vague explanation as being simply that, and failure to put such activities into any political context finally renders its final denouncement rather hollow. Another underwhelming factor is that, despite menacing performances from Gambon and Nero, the film sorely lacks any genuine sense of suspense or tension. While the filmmakers admirably shy away from explicit violence, they fails to replace it even with the threat of suggestion, meaning that the film never convincingly conveys that the lead characters are ever in any real danger (IN DEFENSE OF THE REALM, another British thriller evolving through a journalist’s investigation into a suspicious death, was far more effective). Considering that the subject was inspired by a true incident – that of Roberto Calvi, ‘God’s Banker’, who was found hanging under Blackfriars Bridge in 1982 – perhaps some grit would have grounded the film in reality and therefore evoke a feeling of dread.
Framed at its correct aspect ratio of 2:35:1, the non-anamorphic transfer is disappointing. Seemingly taken from a dated video master, the image is soft, lacking vibrant colour and suffers from heavy pixilation during darker sequences (there is also some minor damage to the master, with very slight video flicker occurring throughout the film). While this presentation does an injustice to the beautiful cinematography by Alan Dunlop, it at least preserves the full theatrical ratio which is essential to viewing the film (a cropped or pan-and-scan transfer would remove a significant amount of information). Overall, the picture matches a decent quality VHS and, although far from perfect, is watchable.
The soundtrack, presented in its original stereo mix, is unspectacular but serviceable. Thankfully, the wonderful music score by Mark Ayres (which features soprano soloist Lesley Garrett) comes through nicely and is one of the picture’s strongest assets.
Additional content on the disc is slight, but most welcome. There is a 13-minute behind-the-scenes featurette documenting the preparation of a stunt that is presented fullscreen (with clips from the film framed at 2:35:1). This also seems to have been sourced from a so-so video master but is very watchable and a nice extra. There is also the original theatrical trailer that is presented unanamorphic and crops the cinemascope dimensions to 1:85:1.
Although flawed, THE INNOCENT SLEEP is a stylish and well-acted British crime picture. It is a pity that (at the time of writing) director Scott Mitchell and screenwriter Ray Villis have not gone on to make another feature film, since they created a very strong debut here, and it would be great to see them collaborate on another project.