RIP Mike Hodges, Brit director of Caine and Clive Owen thrillers and “Flash Gordon”

Mike Hodges, a British filmmaker of some repute who made key films in the careers of Michael Caine (“Get Carter”) and Clive Owen (“Croupier”) has died at the ripe old age of 90.

He did “The Terminal Man” and “Flash Gordon” and “Black Rainbow” and wrote screenplays and theatrical plays, a soft spoken man of letters who made some pretty hardboiled pictures.

Here’s a shot of him with Owen, and below, an interview I had with him at the Toronto Film Fest in the early 2000s.

TORONTO — The courtly, elderly gentleman who opens the door to his hotel suite and promptly offers “Tea?” is not at all what we’d expect of the director of “Croupie”r and the down-and-dirty, new-to-video crime drama “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead.”

Mike Hodges may be 72. But for some reason, you expect cigarettes, black leather sports coats and whiskey from a director with his track record. Instead, he’s in tweed for this late afternoon chat — tweed with a vest.

But there’s still a touch of the criminal underworld about him. The veteran British director — he had his big-screen big break with the gritty Michael Caine mobster vengeance piece, “Get Carter,” back in 1971 — has had a storied career, with both acclaimed films and ugly twists.

The studios came calling after “Get Carter,” which was recently named “Best British Film Ever” by the British Total Film magazine. But he quit “Damien: Omen II” in mid-production in 1978. He bad-mouthed “Flash Gordon” (1980) on its release, calling it “the only improvised $27 million movie ever made.” He turned down the cult hit “Miami Blues” and was relegated to TV in this country, before heading home to make the occasional low-budget drama in Europe (“A Prayer for the Dying,” 1987).

Until, that is, he “discovered” his friend Clive Owen, the star of Hodges’ comeback, 1998’s gambling-world film noir “Croupier,” who also stars in “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead.”

Hodges’ “Croupier” made Owen a star. The director saw in his actor something he first saw in Michael Caine 30 years earlier.

“He’s got a real quality of stillness, like Eastwood, or Michael. Clive has this great analytical quality. He goes after scenes in a way that allows him to be that still. That’s an immense asset to have.”

In “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead,” Owen plays Will Graham, the ex-gangster who left “the life” and dropped out of sight as a wandering laborer. His brother is murdered, and he comes back to find out why.

“It’s an older man’s picture than ‘Get Carter,'” Hodges says. “They have the same structure but a different outcome. I see the world differently, now. Carter doesn’t flinch from revenge. Will does.”

Hodges confesses to working a world-weary tone into his later work. He sees the end of his working career. He has his home in the country, a comfortable reputation and maybe the chance to do one or two more movies before he retires.

“I spent the entire ’80s making films I didn’t particularly want to make, just to survive,” he says. “You want to make something you believe in.”

Reviews of “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” have been mixed, with serious-minded critics, older ones especially, finding things to relish in its “autumnal essence,” as Andrew Sarris put it in The New York Observer.

“People will either love it or hate it,” Hodges says with a shrug and a smile. “I still trust the audience, trust their curiosity. Most filmmakers don’t.”

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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