Perfectly simple, yet deceivingly intricate, French action-thriller Sleepless Night may seem less than remarkable on paper. A classic “give me what I want or the kid gets it” premise, co-screenwriter and director Frédéric Jardin brings an intelligence and disciplined glee to familiar territory; far surpassing his brawny, cinematic influences.
As is often the case, it all kicks off with a heist. Crooked Parisian cop Vincent (Tomer Sisley), and his snivelling lackey Manuel (Laurent Stocker), jack the wrong cocaine stash in a daring daylight raid. The coke belongs to Marciano (Serge Riaboukine), a fearsome local gangster who identifies Vincent and ups his bargaining power by acquiring collateral in the form of Vincent’s son, Thomas (Samy Seghir). If he wants him back, he needs to bring the cocaine to the sprawling nightclub that Marciano owns for the trade-off. If only things were that simple we wouldn’t have a movie. Throw in a mass of drunken club-goers, two internal affairs officers, a rival gang of drug traffickers, not to mention that this vast club is the size of a shopping mall, and it turns into a frenetic, exhilarating hundred minutes of cinema. Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.
Appearing in almost every scene, Tomer Sisley is magnetic as France’s equivalent to John McClane. Physically pained from an open stab wound during the initial drug robbery,Vincent wanders around the night club hunched, sweating and close to collapse. It makes his plight and desperation to escape with his son all the more tenable, leaving you on the edge of your seat making sure they both get out alive.
Alongside Sisley – and, following an excellently understated performance in Polisse – Joey Starr proves himself once again to be a terrifying yet charming screen presence as drug launderer and loose cannon Jeydek Starr. Then there is the strikingly beautiful – and strikingly French – Lizzie Brocheré as special detective Vignali, seemingly the only character throughout the proceedings with a moral compass.
How it’s shot is the other half of why the film shines. With The Hunger Games and Clint Eastwood regular Tom Stern in the D.P. seat, Sleepless Night is a masterclass in kinetic cinematography. Recalling the handheld style of Paul Greengrass’ Bourne films, the invasive camera has difficulty keeping up with Vincent as he battles his way through the vortex of a club. Visceral and punchy, the finest achievement involves a drawn out, impactful fist-fight in the bar’s cooking quarters; giving a whole new meaning to the term ‘kitchen-sink’ film trope.
It’s always darkest before the dawn, and Sleepless Night is no exception, with Jardin’s attempts at weight political commentary in the film’s close are At it’s best, this is the strongest action film I’ve seen all year. Unlike the lionised Gareth Evans surprise hit The Raid: Redemption, Sleepless Night is able to smack you around the face with gutsy action whilst also being intelligent and thrilling. As is standard of the film industry, the Warner Bros. bigwigs at BLAH already have an American remake in the works. Probably starring Mark Wahlberg and probably shit. See the original: go French.