It’s interesting to think back on the reasons why you chose to watch a movie. All I knew about Light Sleeper going in was that it starred Willem Dafoe and Susan Sarandon. I never would’ve pegged it for being part of an unofficial trilogy with Taxi Driver and American Gigolo. Those are two films you know about whether you’ve seen them or not, but Umbrella Entertainment’s Blu-ray was the first I was hearing of Light Sleeper’s existence.
Paul Schrader is the person who connects them all: he wrote and directed Gigolo and Sleeper and wrote Taxi Driver. Having not seen the others, I can’t say how Light Sleeper compares, but I can’t think of a reason why it should be less remembered. Dafoe plays John LeTour, a 40-something drug dealer in New York City who’s unsure how much stock to put in his boss’ claim that she’s closing up shop to focus on cosmetics. His days on the job are numbered as it is. In one scene he has to deliver drugs to some girls at a club and, in the course of making small talk, he asks about what they’re doing that evening. It’s hard to imagine being upset by Dafoe, but that’s why they call it acting, because he is very much the creepy old man in that moment, however unintentionally.
While nothing is set in stone, and it’s basically business as usual until Ann (Sarandon) officially calls it quits, the entire film has a “one last job” feel, where LeTour has overstayed his welcome and you’re waiting for something to go wrong. Schrader’s direction makes every hallway ample to lead to LeTour’s arrest, and Michael Been’s music gives insight into LeTour’s psyche. He’s already weary when the film begins.
After a run-in with his ex, Marianne (Dana Delany), though, LeTour questions whether fate might have other plans for him. It’s been years since they saw each other. They’ve both gotten sober, but Marianne doesn’t want anything to do with him. After she exits the taxi, the camera stays outside the vehicle and you see Dafoe through the window, with rain dripping down the glass. He looks like an abandoned puppy.
It doesn’t take a genius to see they have a past, but Schrader’s genius is in how he relays that information. It’s less about the conversations they have with each other but how well LeTour gets along with Marianne’s sister, Randi (Jane Adams), and the concern he expresses for her mother when she’s in the hospital. In those moments you understand how serious they were because he’s close with her family.
Umbrella Entertainment’s Blu-ray includes a commentary by Emma Westwood and Sally Christie. There wasn’t a minute I didn’t enjoy listening to what they had to say on Light Sleeper. From going over the various noir elements in the film, to closely analyzing LeTour’s relationship with Ann (because boy, if this movie isn’t one giant reminder that we don’t sing Susan Sarandon’s praises enough), they pick up on so many great details (the name of the hotel where one of the characters takes a bad turn; the addictive behavior demonstrated by LeTour taping Marianne’s message machine recording and playing it over and over; the connection between the superstitious aspects of the story and LeTour’s uncertain future) that you can’t help but come out with a better understanding of the film (and as a regular commentary listener I also just appreciated that they made a point of saying who’s voice was whose — I don’t know that there’s that pressure when you’re listening for fun, but I always get anxious when it’s a film I’m scheduled to review that I’ll mistake who’s speaking).
There’s also a Q&A with Schrader and cinematographer, Edward Lachman. Schrader does most of the talking but the audience asks interesting questions, and Schrader even talks about the column shot which, if you’ve seen the film, is extremely memorable, where Marianne and John are eating and the camera flips to the other side of the table, to show that there’s a column standing between them.
Available now on Blu-Ray and DVD from Umbrella Entertainment, Light Sleeper‘s unusual blend of mysticism and crime is wholly original, and its relationships feel lived-in. The bonus features add to the draw of owning this set and while the web-site lists the disk as being Region B I was able to play it on a regular Blu-ray player.