It is the people we know best who can, on rare occasions, seem most unreal to us. For a moment the familiar face registers as merely an arbitrary arrangement of colored surfaces, without even the shadowy personality with which we invest a strange face glimpsed in the street.
-Fritz Leiber, from Conjure Wife
Under different circumstances, I might be really harsh toward Sleep Dealer. As it is, I'm in an unbearably forgiving mood and grant the film a full pardon for its multitude of transgressions.
Besides the near-future Mexican setting, we've seen it all before. Country boy in a big city. Woman taking advantage of person falls in love with same person. Cozy bums 'round the campfire. Fuzzy-bordered memory sequences. Body implants that allow direct neurological connection to the Web and to others. So many worn-out types and tropes.
Nevertheless, Sleep Dealer shines.
Rivera is no Bergman, but he's asking the same fundamental questions that Bergman repeatedly asks. Who am I? Who are you? How can two individuals know one another? Why don't Americans like Mexicans?
It may be the protagonist's smile alone that kept me involved. I'm not sure. But I bought it all and really liked every moment. Having willfully submitted to the schmaltz, the emotional payoff at the end was extremely satisfying because I was invested in the character and this (barely) believable near future.
In fact, I was feeling so good that I had a Fraggle Rock tune jump into my head. Of course, later in the afternoon (I was up really early watching Sleep Dealer), I watched the Fraggle Rock episode "Let the Water Run" with my girls just to celebrate. It's an okay episode; nothing special. Except, yeah, it feels really good when the water starts running again. Feel the water run.
I recommend Sleep Dealer. I'm hoping that Rivera's next feature delivers on the promise and is twice as good.
There's been a nice little run lately of really decent relatively low-budget science fiction. Moon. Timecrimes. Visioneers. Sleep Dealer. I'm watching Cold Souls tomorrow night. District 9 fits here if I'm feeling generous. I'm sure there are plenty more that I'm missing. Film SF is still at least 40 years behind print SF, but signs of life continue to emerge. Here's to a bright future.