Light Sleeper [1992]

This compelling 1992 drama is often cited as the third film in writer-director Paul Schrader's trilogy of "nocturnal alienation" that includes Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (which Schrader wrote) and American Gigolo. Like those other films, this one deals with a solitary man who works almost exclusively at night, and the film immerses us in the rhythms and psychology of his lifestyle. In this case, Willem Dafoe plays a cocaine addict who has kicked the habit that almost killed him, but still delivers drugs to clients for a dealer (Susan Sarandon) who dreams of opening a legitimate cosmetics business. He meets an old lover (Dana Delany) who fears he will draw her into their old life of drug abuse, but that proves to be the least of their worries. Simultaneously sad, funny, and fascinating, the film inevitably leads to the outburst of violence that has become a kind of signature in Schrader's work. It lacks the visceral impact of Taxi Driver, but few directors can match Schrader's gift for creating fully realized characters on the fringes of a society to which they don't quite belong. Insomnia, in Schrader's world, is a condition suffered by those whose dreams remain elusive, just beyond their grasp. --Jeff Shannon

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