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Light Sleeper at Union South Marquee
November 17, 2022 @ 7:00 pm - 8:45 pmFree
John LeTour (Willem Dafoe) is shown writing at a desk in his largely empty apartment at night, shirtless. There is a tall, stylized lamp behind him and a wine bottle sitting on the table next to a glass.
“They figure you can tell a D.D. anything. Things they would never tell anyone else,” drug dealer John LeTour (Willem Dafoe) narrates in writer-director Paul Schrader’s 1992 film Light Sleeper. The line frames a scene that features David Spade as one of LeTour’s customers, sitting in his underwear and going off on an unhinged philosophical rant while snorting cocaine.
It’s quite comic but helps draw us into LeTour’s illicit but comfortable world, illustrating the control he tries to exert over his life as he navigates a range of shady, unpredictable characters and absorbs the news that his boss (Susan Sarandon) wants to get out of the business. Cinematographer Ed Lachman’s shots of rainy Manhattan streets and half-lit car interiors, alongside the baritone vocals of Michael Been’s song “World On Fire,” combine in the film’s powerful opening.
This being a Schrader film, all his trademark elements are at work: the lonely male protagonist, his desperate fixation on a woman (Dana Delany, as LeTour’s ex Marianne), and the mounting sense that the narrative is bound for a final spasm of violence. Then again, Roger Ebert wrote at the time of Light Sleeper‘s release: “This movie isn’t about plot, it’s about a style of life, and the difficulty of preserving self-respect and playing fair when your income depends on selling people stuff that will make them hate you.”
LeTour at once understands the bleak confines of his life but holds out hope for something greater. Even in Dafoe’s remarkable career, this performance is a standout: tightly wound, both aloof and deeply needy, all those edges sharpened to a handsome prime. He makes it pretty alluring to get wrapped up in an existence most of us would not actually want to share.
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