Pre-Pub Review

To Sleep with Anger

Criterion, 102 min., PG, DVD: $29.99, Blu-ray: $39.99

Reviewer rating: 3.5/4

The tensions in a black middle-class family in Los Angeles are pulled to the breaking point when an old family friend—a charmingly devilish drifter from the Deep South with a history of trouble—arrives on their doorstep. After the elderly Gideon and Suzie (Paul Butler and Mary Alice) graciously take in Harry (Danny Glover, in perhaps his finest performance), Gideon suffers a stroke and Harry slowly comes to dominate the household, acting the country gentleman while attempting to lead everyone into temptation. The couple’s frustrated younger son, who is still called Babe Brother (Richard Brooks), falls under Harry’s spell and becomes increasingly bitter toward his successful older sibling Junior (Carl Lumbly) and neglectful of his wife (Sheryl Lee Ralph), while the house is invaded by Harry’s no-account friends. This 1990 third feature by American independent filmmaker Charles Burnett (Killer of Sheep)—director of some of the great portraits of black life in 20th-century America—draws from southern folklore and hints at supernatural dimensions with Harry’s arrival (when Junior’s pregnant wife extends a hand to Harry, the baby kicks hard enough to stop her). But it also explores the collision of rural southern black culture and middle-class black urban life, folk superstitions and remedies versus religion and modern medicine, and complicated family relationships in the contemporary world. A winner of top awards at Sundance and the Independent Spirit Awards, To Sleep with Anger was added to the National Film Registry in 2017. An acclaimed American indie film making its debut on DVD and Blu-ray, mastered from a new 4K restoration, extras include a new featurette with the cast and crew, a short piece on Burnett, a 2017 video tribute to Burnett, and a booklet with an essay by critic Ashley Clark. Highly recommended. (S. Axmaker)