Reviewed at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival
Frederic Jardin's Sleepless Night starts with a bang and doesn't much let up for the next 90 minutes. In its tense opening sequence, Vincent (Tomer Sisley) and Manuel (Laurent Stoker) put on ski masks, crash into a car, and steal a big bag of cocaine from the occupants, leaving one for dead. But these are no everyday jackers: these men aren't crooks, but corrupt cops. Trouble is, they've been recognized, and the intended recipient of the coke nabs Vincent's son. His ransom is the coke.
The premise is simple--elegant even--and one of the pleasures of the screenplay (which Jardin wrote with Nicolas Saada) is how logically and entertainingly that simple transaction goes to pieces. Vincent obviously can't get help from the police, so he has to go it alone, carrying the bag to the massive nightclub that serves as headquarters for underworld boss Marciano (Serge Riaboukine). Other interested parties present complications, but like any good criminal, Vincent is blessed with a gift for improvisation, and a unique talent for staying a step ahead (but barely) of the criminal element.
The bulk of the action occurs over the course of the titular evening, as Vincent first tries to make the delivery, and then bluff his way through long enough to get the kid and get the hell out. A steady stream of cops (dirty and otherwise) and thugs serve as human obstructions, with the club music providing a tense, pounding heartbeat for the action. Jardin stages his scenes with a pulsing, scrappy energy and anything-goes visual sense that matches the protagonist's spur-of-the-moment style; the picture is relentless, tumbling forward with an itchy intensity, aided immeasurably by Nicholas Errera's slick, hyped-up score.
There's not much room for thespian showboating in this mind of pressure-cooker environment, but Sisley is a good, sturdy leading man, and up to the challenges of identification and sympathy presented by the script--this is s guy who lies as easily as he breathes, and has a different story for everyone, to a point where it's tough to know what the hell to believe from him. We're not inclined to root for a dirty cop, but the panic and fear for his son is a powerful sympathy factor, even when that sympathy is tested by some less than admirable scenes (I'm thinking particularly of the tussle with a female cop).
As the night grows longer and the situation grows more desperate, Jardin tightens up the pace, plays with perspective, and cranks up the intensity even higher--every gunshot rips through a wall or door with a thud, the music gets louder, the fisticuffs (like a rough and tumble kitchen brawl) get messier. This is a guy who can take a beating and push on; same thing with the film. Sleepless Night stumbles a bit at the end, with an unnecessary epilogue that ultimately just provides gratuitous ambiguity, but that's a minor complaint. Overall, this is a taut, bracing, memorable piece of action craftsmanship.
Jason lives with his wife Rebekah and their two cats in New York and holds an MA in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU. He is film editor for Flavorwire and is a contributor to Salon, the Atlantic, and several other publications. He blogs at Fourth Row Center and is yet another critic with a Twitter feed.