Plenty of action movies promise non-stop thrills but Sleepless Night is one of the few that actually delivers. Director Frédéric Jardin's film is an unyielding shot of adrenaline that simply can't be denied. It goes and goes and just when a lesser film would have paused for a breather, it takes off like a rocket.
As the film opens, we hit the ground running with Vincent (Tomer Sisley) and Manuel (Laurent Stocker) who steal a duffel bag filled with cocaine from a couple of thugs. Unfortunately, things get messy in a hurry when Manuel gets trigger happy. In the ensuing commotion, one of the thugs is killed and the other escapes but not before getting a good look at Vincent's face. This is going to be a problem because Vincent and Manuel are actually cops...dirty ones, but cops nonetheless. The heist comes back to haunt Vincent in a big way when his son (Samy Seghir) gets snatched by José Marciano (Serge Riaboukine), the drug lord whose inventory is now short one duffel bag of cocaine.
Marciano's not an unreasonable man. He's willing to make a trade. If Vincent shows up at Marciano's nightclub The Tarmac with the drugs all accounted for, he can collect his son and be on his merry way. This turns out to be easier said than done as other players enter the frame. There's Lacombe (Julien Boisselier), a corrupt Internal Affairs officer who is working with Manuel and Vignali (Lizzie Brocheré), Lacombe's eager underling who doesn't recognize the monster she's working for. Let's also not forget Feydek (Joey Starr) and Yilmaz (Birol Ünel) who are impatiently waiting to purchase the drugs that Marciano is currently missing. The Tarmac is about to get very crowded and that's before you even account for the hundreds of shiny, happy club goers that are going to descend on the joint.
There's an obvious genre analogy to be made here so I won't be coy about it. A determined man of action who goes up against incredible odds to save his kidnapped child could just as easily apply to Taken (a film I love dearly) but the comparison ends right at the surface. The devil, after all, is in the details. The strength of Jardin's film lies in the character of Vincent who convincingly comes across as the underdog. He isn't a superhero with a very particular set of skills. He's just a streetwise cop who's good at thinking on his feet. Not all of his plans work out (in fact, very few do) but he's resourceful enough to stay alive long enough to come up with a new one. His unpredictability adds a dose of danger that more conservative action flicks can only dream of.
For a film as fast-paced as this (it really does fly), one may expect that character development would take a major hit. My concerns were put to rest by the intelligent screenplay that extracts tiny glimpses of Vincent's humanity with every nigh impossible obstacle he tackles. His frustration, his anger and even his sadness are handled with sensitivity and efficiency. This doesn't prevent Jardin from occasionally reminding us that though Vincent's mission is virtuous, he still isn't an angel. His use of excessive force against Vignali is borderline uncomfortable but acts as a reminder that we are watching a man very close to the edge of his sanity. Tomer Sisley absolutely shines in the lead role and manages to keep us on Vincent's side, even in difficult moments like this.
While all the performers acquit themselves admirably, a pivotal role actually belongs to the club itself. The structure complete with its writhing mass of singing, dancing partiers features so prominently that it quickly becomes a characters in its own right. Watching Vincent navigate its differently themed rooms and battling its crowds to get from place to place is pulse-quickening in itself. One of the most touching moments comes courtesy of a young lady that Vincent saves from a lecherous drunk. Enamored by him, she follows Vincent like a lost puppy until he is forced to cut her loose. Their relationship is brief and practically silent but it offers a shared calm experience in the midst of the chaos surrounding them.
If there are any missteps in the film, they are barely worth pointing out. The jittery, frenetic camera work conveys urgency for the most part but it occasionally feels gratuitous (especially in the quiet moments). The post-climax scenes also stretch the film out to deliver an emotional impact that feels excessive. Thankfully, these are truly minor nitpicks and you'll be too exhausted from the running / punching / shooting / bleeding to really care. This is visceral, forceful entertainment that demands to be experienced.
The anamorphic widescreen image offers up decent contrast and black levels which is important considering how much of the film takes place at night or in dark corners of the nightclub. Tom Stern, the cinematographer, employs a jittery handheld style with his camera always on the move. Given that, some of the visual aspects like occasional heavy grain and softness in certain scenes seem to be intentional and indicative of what the director was going for. Fine detail is certainly not lacking in plentiful close-ups. This is a perfectly suitable presentation for the material at hand.
The audio is presented in French 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround and 2.0 Stereo mixes with English subtitles. I chose to view the film with the surround mix and it did not disappoint. The score by Nicolas Errèra is a pulsating twitchy thing of beauty. Thankfully the mix gives it ample support. Since the film is set in a nightclub, it's nice to have the pounding, electronic music of The Tarmac come through with such oomph. Dialogue is clear and doesn't get overwhelmed while the action roars to life with great regularity.
The only extra is An Interview with the Cast of Sleepless Night (4:47). This extremely brief featurette is loaded with footage from the film and just a few sound bites from Tomer Sisley, Samy Seghir and Joey Starr on what their characters bring to the film.
Director Frédéric Jardin has created something special here. This is a pulse-pounding thriller that absolutely delivers on its promise (and then some). Tomer Sisley makes his ass-kicking lead utterly believable by underscoring the heroics with vulnerability and intelligence. Sleepless Night is a relentless wonder worth seeking out. Highly Recommended.