Friday June 27, 1997
Intrepid reporters, noble homeless, outlaw masons and tutti Mafiosi are the ingredients in "The Innocent Sleep," an English thriller that won't inspire much raising of hair, tingling of spines or biting of nails. But it does have an intelligent cast and none of them wear capes.
Imagine a fair to middlin' "Prime Suspect" episode--except that in lieu of the severe but sensitive Det. Inspector Jane Tennyson we get the severe but sensitive crime reporter Billie Hayman (Annabella Sciorra). Her all-but-indecipherable connections to the homeless community of London provides the tip to the biggest story of the year: that the body of an Italian industrialist found hanged from a Thames River bridge wasn't a suicide at all. And the ripples are international.
The tip comes from Alan Terry, an out-of-luck, out-of-work, out-of-wife drinker who witnesses the crime, in one of the movie's tenser scenes. He's given a very substantial performance by Rupert Graves ("The Madness of King George," "A Room With a View"), one of the more talented of England's current bumper crop of gifted actors. Used to less effectiveness is the about-to-be-legendary Michael Gambon ("Mystery!'s" Maigret, recently seen on Broadway in "Skylight"), who imbues his homicidal rogue detective with an unhealthy level of venom. But why should an actor of Gambon's stature be playing a role meant for Brian Dennehy?
Why, for that matter, is Billie an American? There's no explanation (none that I remember anyway). There's certainly nothing wrong with her being American, even if British work rules might make it unlikely. But without some explanation, we're left to assume that she's American simply because they wanted Sciorra in the movie. And that puts an unfair burden on an actress who isn't all that endearing to begin with.
Director Scott Michell acquits himself admirably; this is his first feature, and it moves along smoothly, professionally, rhythmically. OK, so we hear opera every time the good guys, or the police, venture into the beggars' community (an aria sung by Lesley Garrett of the English National Opera and specially composed for this film). Directors have done a lot worse. And done it this summer.
"Innocent Sleep"--a title lifted, for no particularly urgent reason, from "Macbeth"--is based on the Roberto Calvi Affair of 1982, in which a presumed suicide was found swinging under a Thames bridge. The subsequent investigation revealed a conspiracy that "touched the Vatican and the Italian government of the day," according to the film's press notes. The filmmakers, having all this to work with, have also implicated Scotland Yard, maligned the working press and tied the whole thing neatly together via a character modeled after Rupert Murdoch. If the purpose of this kind of conspiracy thriller is to increase our paranoia, "Innocent Sleep" fails, simply because it tries too hard.
The Innocent Sleep, 1997. R, for violence and language. Producer-director Scott Michell. Producers Scott Michell, Matthew Vaughn. Executive producer Rod Michell. Screenplay Ray Villis, Derek Trigg. Music Mark Ayres. Editor Derek Trigg. Photography Alan Dunlop. Production design Eve Mavrakis. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes. Annabella Sciorra as Billie Hayman. Rupert Graves as Alan Terry. Michael Gambon as Chief Inspector Stephens. Graham Crowden as Matheson. John Hannah as James. Franco Nero as Cavani.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun