TO SLEEP WITH ANGER
Review by Gordon Justesen
Glover, Paul Butler, Mary Alice, Carl Lumbly, Vonetta McGee, Richard Brooks,
Sheryl Lee Ralph
Director: Charles Burnett
Audio: DTS HD 2.0
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 102 Minutes
Release Date: February 26, 2019
“You never know what’s in the heart and just because you can cry doesn’t make you human.”
Certain films can’t be easily classified into a specific genre. Charles Burnett’s 1990 piece, To Sleep With Anger falls into that rarest of categories. At times it’s quite humorous, at other times it’s intensely dramatic, with a final moment that leaves us scratching our heads...and I meant that in a most positive way.
Added to this, we are treated to a slice of African-American life that we are certainly not treated to that much. That was especially true of 1990. The setting is South Central Los Angeles, but it’s far from the harsh reality we would were familiar with.
The story focuses on Gideon (Paul Butler) and Suzie (Mary Alice), a devoted couple from the south who reside in South Central. They have two sons who have families of their own. However, the family’s relationship has drifted apart in the years since the sons went on to establish their own sense of family life.
Once the family find themselves reunited, they are greeted by an unexpected visitor at their front door. The visitor in question is Harry (Danny Glover), a southern gentleman and old acquaintance of Gideon and Suzie from decades ago. He politely asks to stay at their residence for a few days, which the couple generously allows.
This sets the stage for a series of odd occurrences within the household. Harry’s arrival raises eyebrows at first, as Gideon and Suzie wonder how he was even able to track them down after so many years in the first place. And his generous demeanor, representing that of old southern values, helps to create a very nice atmosphere...before that of a slightly sinister personality starts to slither its way in and causing a level of tension within the family.
For Danny Glover, this is a glorious showcase. Here was an actor becoming famous for being the face of a popular action franchise with Lethal Weapon, but with this got to remind audiences of his immense dramatic range that was greatly established in films like The Color Purple. Harry might just be the most complex character that Glover has brought to life in any film.
To Sleep With Anger is a striking work of originality from a unique storyteller in Charles Burnett. You never quite know where this story is going, and that quality combined with Danny Glover’s wonderful performance make for an experience that is truly one of a kind. The film is the pure epitome of a sleeper gem!
Though I have never seen a previous incarnation of this film, this Criterion release has assured me that there is no other presentation that can measure up to what they have delivered! Through a 4K mastering approved by Burnett himself, the picture is immensely alive with fully realized detail for every frame of the film. Also most amazing is the terrific color scheme which is in superb effect from beginning to end! Another marvelous presentation courtesy of the great team at Criterion!
The DTS 2.0 mix delivers profoundly well for such a small scale, dialogue driven film. For one thing, every instance of the dialogue is delivered to flawless effect, and the blues-like music score provided by Stephen James Taylor plays out terrifically, as well!
This Criterion Blu-ray includes several well handled extras, starting with “Of Family and Folklore”, which is reflection on the importance of the film featuring interviews with Charles Burnett, Danny Glover and various cast and crew members. Also included is a video tribute to Burnett from various actors and filmmakers, and “A Walk with Charles Burnett”, an intimate interview with the director conducted by Robert Townsend. And in great Criterion fashion, we get an insert featuring an essay by critic Ashley Clark.
To Sleep With Anger is a film that truly is in a class by itself, much like all of the works by the distinctive Charles Burnett. It captures an African-American family in a way very rarely seen. The new Blu-ray release from Criterion is nothing short of marvelous!