Although with this movie writer-director Charles Burnett received considerable attention as one of a "new wave" of black filmmakers, he had already been making films for more than a decade. An atypical look at suburban middle-class black life, TO SLEEP WITH ANGER boasts a rich and
resonant screenplay, strong performances, and expressive direction.
Danny Glover, who used some of his post-LETHAL WEAPON clout to finance the film, won for himself a rare opportunity to show his dramatic range. Harry Mention (Glover), a hard-bitten drifter, shows up one day at the suburban Los Angeles home of Gideon (Paul Butler) and his wife Suzie (Mary Alice).
He is an old friend who grew up with the couple in the South. The household is filled with tension, much of it created by son Samuel (Richard Brooks), who resents hard-working, successful older brother Junior (Carl Lumbly). Junior, meanwhile, resents the way his parents dote on Samuel, despite the
fact that Junior does all the heavy work around the house while supporting his pregnant wife, Pat (Vonetta McGee). Harry's arrival initially adds some excitement to the family life, but his behavior develops an insidious edge. He starts bringing his old friends into the house: blues singers,
gamblers, and other shady characters who drink heavily and have vaguely violent pasts. We learn that Harry himself may have been involved with a couple of murders. When Gideon is disabled by a stroke, Harry assumes control of the household with bleak results, exploiting the family's weaknesses and
What really sticks out in TO SLEEP WITH ANGER is its richness of imagery. The opening credits play over an image of Gideon sitting placidly in a chair as flames burn first on his feet and eventually over his entire body as the hymn "Precious Memories" plays on the soundtrack. Other memorable
scenes include shots of the kid next door struggling to play a trumpet, undercutting the stereotypes about blacks and music; Harry cutting his toenails in Gideon's favorite chair as Gideon lies stricken upstairs; and the poignant montage showing the deterioration of Gideon's beloved garden in the
wake of his illness.
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- Released: 1990
- Rating: PG
- Review: Although with this movie writer-director Charles Burnett received considerable attention as one of a "new wave" of black filmmakers, he had already been making films for more than a decade. An atypical look at suburban middle-class black life, TO SLEEP WIT… (more)