Set in a retro-Forties film noir world of violent gangsters and glamorous femme fatales, The Perfect Sleep concerns a nameless narrator (Anton Pardoe, who also scripted) who returns to the shadowy city of his youth when Porphyria (Roselyn Sanchez), the love of his life, is in danger. Raised by Russian mobsters, their childhood romance ended with Porphyria’s reluctant marriage to the kindly, but weak Ivan (Peter J. Lucas). Now their daughter has been kidnapped and our hardboiled hero is entangled in an elaborate revenge scheme concocted by another childhood acquaintance, the Rajah (Sam Thakur). Also lying in wait is Nikolai (Patrick Bauchau), aging demagogue of the Russian mob, who may or may not be the narrator’s father. Our hero must revisit his former life of torment and torture, as he fights to protect his beloved Porphyria and finally earn that “perfect sleep.”
Described by no less an admirer than Gary Oldman as “film noir on crack”, this indie effort oozes style and class. While The Perfect bears certain stylistic similarities with such genre-bending neo-noirs as Angel Heart (1987) and especially Sin City (2005), first-time filmmaker Jeremy Alter and screenwriter-star Anton Pardoe have concocted a far more emotionally engaging movie. Pardoe crafts a labyrinthine, highly literate storyline incorporating elements from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, King Lear and Othello alongside the expected references to classic noir. While some of the self-conscious posturing does grate (e.g. wiseass narration that comments: “Nice shot. A bit clichéd, but the French dig this kind of visual and I dig the French”, plus dialogue that name checks that other playfully post-modern neo-noir: Tokyo Drifter (1966) and a character named Van Heflin), the sheer wit, intelligence and panache involved will win you over.
Alter recounts the intricate, darkly poetic back-story using charming stylistic devices that evoke modern masters from David Lynch to Christopher Nolan, though admittedly hark back as far as Citizen Kane (1941). Lingering from Sin City are a handful of slack-paced but admirably ambitious martial arts sequences, along with a regrettable tendency to hero worship sadistic thugs in designer suits. Pardoe conveys more with his writing and evocative voice than through his lukewarm screen presence, but a strong supporting cast of familiar faces including Without a Trace star Roselyn Sanchez, Michael Pare, Tony Amendola and Keith Allan, bring an array of colourful characters to scene-stealing life. The admirably complex yet consistently engaging plot does leave a few loose ends, but builds to an ingeniously staged warehouse shootout and a powerful payoff between Sanchez and Pardoe. Movie buffs will note the filmmakers use of Los Angeles’ Bradbury Building, famous from countless film noirs even before being immortalised in Blade Runner (1982).