Director: Paul Schrader
Paul Schrader is arguably one of the most vital figures of contemporary American cinema. An auteur in the truest sense, his vast body of work as a scriptwriter, director and critic is an incisive exploration of the darker recesses of the American psyche, gnawing spiritual needs, troubled sexuality and urban frustration.
In Light Sleeper, Schrader returns, quite literally, to characters, places and themes that have filled his best known works. John LeTour (Willem Dafoe) is the quintessential Schrader protagonist: a drifter, a spirit looking for a body to inhabit, nostalgic, but unable to connect with the present. In Taxi Driver this character was angry, in American Gigolo he was narcissistic, but now he's anxious. A courier in a boutique drug business, he is no longer 'in the life' but continues to roam its fringes.
LeTour, like many of his generation, has seen a decade metamorphose. The experimentation with drugs has ended with the heinous-ness of crack, sexual liberation has become a struggle for survival, and reform has stagnated in political conservatism.
Like much of Schrader's (best) work, Light Sleeper is not so much plot-driven as it is a study of inner-life. Schrader originally intended to use songs by Bob Dylan, but when that didn't work out, he commissioned Michael Been to compose the lyrical songs that help provide LeTour's 'interior monologue'. Filled with loving cinematic references (most notably Bresson's Pickpocket) and a brilliantly unstressed performance by Willem Dafoe (all the more remarkable for the fact that he appears in almost every single frame), light Sleeper is not just a work of rare and haunting beauty, but one that presents a provocative and troubling portrait of contemporary lives and times.