To Sleep with Anger

Danny Glover is an actor of protean gifts. Whether it's action comedy (Lethal Weapons 1 and 2) or drama (Places in the Heart, The Color Purple), he never fails to deliver the goods. But in writer-director Charles Burnett's To Sleep With Anger, Glover outdoes himself, giving the performance of his career to date. Glover plays Harry Mention, a magnetic visitor from the Deep South who comes to stay with an old friend, Gideon (Paul Butler), and Gideon's wife and grown children, in Los Angeles. Harry's effect on this assimilated, black middle-class family is immediate. Harry spins tales full of folklore, lucky charms and bad magic that seem exotic and sometimes ominous to these urban up-and-comers who have lost touch with the rural tradition.

Gideon's rebellious son, Babe Brother (Richard Brooks), feels an instant affinity with Harry. But Gideon's other son, Junior, played by Carl Lumbly, is suspicious. Soon most of the other family members, including Gideon's wife, Suzie (the outstanding Mary Alice), are regarding Harry as a destructive force. It would be unfair to give away too many plot details. Suffice it to say that Burnett (Killer of Sheep) has mixed past and present, poetry and realism, humor and terror, to make a unique and unforgettable film.

From The Archives Issue 590: November 1, 1990