Homeless ne’er-do-well Alan Terry (Rupert Graves) witnesses the mob execution of banker Lusano (Oliver Cotton), presided over by Italian boss Adolfo Cavani (Franco Nero) and his British enforcer “Stephens” (Michael Gambon). Fleeing the killers, Alan tries to report the murder, only to discover the man investigating the case is none other than Detective Inspector Stephens. Alan’s drunken, but fatherly friend George (Graham Crowden) puts him in touch with Billie Hayman (Annabella Sciorra), an ambitious journalist harbouring guilt for having betrayed another confidential informant. With Alan’s help, Billie pieces the mystery together, but Stephens is on their trail.
Back in the mid-Nineties, this British thriller came and went at the big screen, making little impression. The only movie to date from director Scott Michell, The Innocent Sleep was an early producing credit for Matthew Vaughn, who two years later kick-started the Brit crime flick craze with Guy Ritchie and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998). Scripted by Ray Villis, the film was inspired by the true life case of Roberto Calvi, dubbed “God’s Banker”, who was found hanging under Blackfriar’s Bridge in 1982. Originally treated as a suicide, an Italian inquiry later established Calvi was murdered, from which the film extrapolates its own far-fetched scenario.
Michell makes skilful use of the London locations and thrifty sets allotted by his meagre budget and imparts a blue and golden hued cinematographic style, not too dissimilar from the French “cinema du look” thrillers from a decade prior. A red-tinged nightmare and a scene where homeless men are set on fire are among the striking, if strangely listless set-pieces, but Michell fails to propel the plot and attempts at pathos just don’t hit home the way they should. After a good start, the film loses its way, marred by clumsy violence and the OTT performances that so often accompany Brit crime flicks. Graves and Gambon overplay their roles as dishevelled scouser and corrupt copper respectively, while Sciorra is seemingly acting in another movie entirely, often caught in digressions like Billie’s ongoing banter with editor boyfriend James (John Hannah).
Along with Alan’s brief dalliance with a teenage runaway and his, never-revealed, reasons for him being estranged from wife Sheila (Hilary Crowson), the Billie-James relationship is another conundrum that clutters the narrative. The premise has potential, but the issue of homeless people being exploited by the business elite fall by the wayside as things plod along listlessly. Michell even adds a pointless motorcycle chase just to inject a little excitement. The climax proves especially frustrating, as mob assassins tie up all the loose ends and with nothing for the heroes to do but stand idly by, unknowingly and hopelessly overwhelmed by the powers that be. Which might be the point Villis’ script is trying to make, but provides nothing particularly exciting or profound.