Monday, December 19, 2011

"Light Sleeper"

Writer/Director: Paul Schrader 1992
I’ve been a fan of Paul Schrader’s work since “Taxi Driver,” which he wrote. By my unofficial tally, Schrader has directed 17 movies, and written 20 produced screenplays, an impressive record given most of the films demand a level of audience attention not normally required. It’s unlikely Schrader will ever direct in 3-D, but I’d love to see him try, perhaps adapting one of his own “man in a room” scripts in the vein of “Taxi Driver” or “Light Sleeper,” a film he considers his most personal. Maybe it's time for a cerebral 3-D movie. Maybe Martin Scorsese, Schrader's former collaborator, has already made one with "Hugo." But I haven't seen "Hugo,"and I like the idea--no matter how far-fetched--of Schrader directing in 3-D
In “Light Sleeper,” Willem Dafoe plays John LeTour, a former addict who has worked as a dealer for years for Ann, a flamboyant, high-end supplier played by Susan Sarandon. LeTour struggles to keep his soul—for want of a better word--alive. Like Travis Bickle, he packs notebooks with his thoughts, trying to come to grips with his past and grapple with his questionable future. Despite his occupation and sins, LeTour is a flawed but good man.
He reunites with his ex-lover (a memorable Dana Delany), only to lose her to drugs. Like many Schrader scripts, there is a violent, cathartic climax, but LeTour survives. He’ll go to jail, but there’s reason to believe he may have a decent life when he gets out.
Before he broke into the movie business, Schrader worked as a critic, and wrote “Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer.” I read the book last year, primarily because of my interest in Robert Bresson. Schrader’s book is not an easy read, and I’d be lying if I said I understood every word. But it’s clear how Schrader has been influenced by Bresson, whose protagonists—be they priest, pickpocket or donkey (yes, a donkey)—are innocents struggling in a corrupt and ugly world (there’s a sanitation strike throughout “Light Sleeper” and Manhattan’s streets are piled high with garbage). LeTour may be a dealer, but there’s an innocence to him, too, and Dafoe is terrific in revealing LeTour's complexity.
Give “Light Sleeper” a chance. It may lead you to more of Schrader's work. And as long as you’re at it, why not give Bresson a shot? Not easy material, perhaps, but worth the effort. And you won’t need 3-D glasses.


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