Sleepless Night begins with a sequence at tepid dawn on a deserted French street, as two cops rob two drug carriers in a vehicle. One of the cops is stabbed, and one of the drug carriers is shot to death.The scene is somewhat washed out by the early light. But what is to follow in the rest of the movie is a brilliant use of light and darkness, motion and suspense.Vincent (Tomer Sisley) - the cop with the wound in his side - goes home, where his young son Thomas (Samy Seghir) is staying overnight. His mother has remarried, and the relationship between Vincent and Thomas is not close.Thomas is basically flippant, because his dad doesn't really know him. Vincent drives Thomas to school and drops him off.But Vincent has been identified by the gangsters as one of the cops who stole the stash, and the big boss Marciano (Serge Riaboukine) demands its return.Marciano has Thomas kidnapped and he's being held somewhere in Marciano's massive, maze-like night club as inducement for Vincent to return the drugs.As evening turns into night, the club is teeming with hordes of people pressing against each other, drinking, dancing and cavorting in mass celebration.
Vincent tries to return the cocaine, but things go awry. It turns into a dangerous game of fateful hide and seek. How will Vincent rescue his son in the massive club with the massive mob of partiers?It's a game of mistrust and deceit. Good moves are followed by bad ones. Fate is not easy. Screw-ups are easy.The name of the night club in which most of the action occurs is Le Tarmac. It should be Acme, because Vincent is part Wile E. Coyote and part Road Runner. Destruction prevails.One has to suspend his disbelief, especially in an incredible fight in the vast kitchen, with the large staff watching raptly. Almost every object in the kitchen is sent into chaotic, destructive flight.Director Jardin is especially fortunate to have Tom Stern as cinematographer. Stern recently shot The Hunger Games. He has been cinematographer for for ten movies, starting with Blood Work (2002) through J. Edgar (2011). Before that he was gaffer and then chief lighting tech for Clint.Stern spent part of his youth in France, and as an adult has a house in France and married a French-woman. In 2009 Stern won the French Cesar Award for Best Cinematography for Paris 36 (2008). So the proximity was a positive.
Jardin has Stern do things that Clint never did. Stern's camera movement, vertical shots, and lighting effects are spirited and fresh. He's a cinematic whirling dervish.Sleepless Night has several memorable shots, e.g. a track of the crawlspace above the ceilings from one bathroom to another. It has a purpose. Or the dark club lit only by a myriad sprinkling of cell phones.Also crucial to the effectiveness of Sleepless Night are production designer Hubert Pouille and set director Floria Dima, who must have been exhausted replacing the flying objects. Lamps, tables, chairs, trays, glasses, dishes, colanders, and bottles are obliterated.The music (Nicholas Errera) adds a throbbing pulse to the movie, highlighted by Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust" as accompaniment to a wild chase through the club.The screenplay by Jardin and Saada adds a depth with its dualities. They abound with deft meaning: two pairs of cops - one corrupt in each duo; cocaine and flour; two bathrooms' hiding places; two husbands; two cell phones in a climactic car ride; two drivers, and on and on. It's a bounty of intriguing dualities.Sleepless Night is a French film, so it contrasts with an American action movie. The protagonist on the run hides his face by kissing an attractive woman - more than once. Ah, those French. And Sleepless Night ends in a way an American movie never would. [Is the final shot reminiscent of Truffaut's The 400 Blows (1959)?] Ah, French ambivalence. Movie In HD
Jardin gets the movie's pulse established early on, as Vincent struggles upstream against revelers while Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust" throbs on the sound system; shooting from Vincent's POV, from belly level looking straight up, and from between the bodies of oblivious dancers, the director finds plenty of ways to show how difficult it is just to get from one part of this complex to another -- and how much worse it can be when people in three other spots are racing to the same destination. (Managing all those tight camera setups is Tom Stern, Clint Eastwood's cinematographer, who obtained a stylish look using prosumer-grade video.)
In the annals of cops gone bad, Vincent is not the most effective; misjudging situations and blowing advantages repeatedly, though, he grows so desperate he becomes almost unstoppable. A vicious battle in the bar's kitchen (where the cop has already established himself as a madman) goes on so long, with everything from colanders to pull-out bread warming trays being used for defense, it threatens to become comic. But Jardin keeps the boy's peril front and center, offering not only danger but the poignant prospect of a father who becomes a failure in the eyes of his son.Something else that Sleepless Night has in common with The Shield—something, that is, that sets both of them apart from the pack—is that it works from the assumption that audiences are far less interested in the calibration of a character's moral compass than in how heroes or antiheroes choose to act under stressful circumstances. Sleepless Night opens with a series of inciting incidents, first establishing, then contradicting, then contradicting again, the do-gooder status of Paris cop Vincent (French action star Tomer Sisley). As he's drawn into a quagmire of drug kingpins and dirty cops, questions of what's right and what's necessary are deliberately confused, and the film becomes a portrait of what a man becomes when it seems as if everything in his life (his family, his career, his hide) is teetering on the edge of a very deep chasm. Why do so many films seem to think that we, the audience, will be lost in a fog if a hero's actions aren't constantly measured against a preset, moral baseline? A deeper sense of identification is found in Sleepless Night's diagram of its characters' baser instincts: self-preservation, greed, pride, and a fundamental sense of reality.
With the opening heist, Jardin's shooting style seems, paradoxically, anonymous, and ostentatious at the same time—such is the state of affairs in a cinematic world that's already had its eyelashes singed off by and Len Wiseman. Over the course of the film, Jardin's style doesn't exactly change gears, nor does he always take the high road, in terms of eschewing elaborate stunt shots (the most notorious being a long take that travels across a nightclub ceiling crawlspace from the lady's bathroom to the men's), but after a few turns in the modest narrative, an unlikely sense of structural resilience begins to emerge.The recent and frequently ballyhooed concept of "chaos cinema"—at best an appreciation for valid new aesthetic models, at worst a Stockholm Syndrome-like acceptance that certain modes of shitty filmmaking are here to stay—comes out smelling fresh here. Sloppiness is Sleepless Night's reigning principle, both thematically and visually, but it's a deceptive sloppiness, held together by Jardin's steady, disciplined hand, keeping a laser focus trained on the dueling sensations of equilibrium and volatility. Easily forgiven of a few harebrained schemes (flour, seriously?) and implausible coincidences, Sleepless Night repays the viewer who's maybe a little weary of the current wave of "pure genre" in cinema, plunging us deep inside a world where no amount of police authority, guns, or muscle can get something done if the universe—or a massive, tumultuous night club—decides otherwise.