To Sleep With Anger is set in contemporary Los Angeles. Gideon is the retired patriarch of a middle-class African-American family; his wife Suzie teaches Lamaze classes for pregnant women. His oldest son has adopted his God-fearing ways. The younger son and his ambitious realtor wife, however, are caught up in America's money fever and look down on Gideon's old-fashioned values.
Deep-seated family resentments are brought to the surface when Harry, a friend of Gideon and Suzie's from their old days in the South, arrives for an unexpected visit. Trouble is his middle name, and he revels in spreading mistrust and discord in the household. With stories, tricks, and mischief Harry sets brother against brother and takes over when Gideon gets sick and into a mysterious coma.
The film's writer and director, Charles Burnett, sees the story as a modern incarnation of the ancient trickster saga. In a very convincing way, Harry tests this family's solidarity and the depth of their Christian faith. Through this character, Burnett exposes the value clashes in the clan and finds the warring elements in the African-American tradition, including black magic versus old-time religion and rural idiosyncrasies versus urban respectability. The ensemble performances in To Sleep With Anger are all top grade with special kudos going to Danny Glover for his performance as Harry.