September 15, 2011

THE BIJOU @ TIFF: Midnight Madness – “Sleepless Night”

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Written by: Mitch Salem
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When the inevitable US remake of the French thriller SLEEPLESS NIGHT arrives, it’ll benefit from some sharper dialogue (assuming the subtitles in Toronto were fully translating the original), a bit more characterization and a slightly more varied tone.  But the framework already exists for a solid action hit.

The picture begins as a variant of another recent French thriller, Point Blank.  This time the hero Vincent (Tomer Sisley) isn’t a complete innocent:  he’s either a crooked cop or a good cop pretending to be crooked–it’s never entirely clear, and frankly it doesn’t matter much; either way he causes a mess. This time, the loved one kidnapped by the bad guys isn’t his pregnant wife, it’s his teen son.  But otherwise the set-up leads to the same place:  a crime boss takes the boy hostage and tells the hero he has to complete a task for them if he wants to see his son alive, which means returning the bag of cocaine he violently grabbed from them in the first reel.
Sleepless Night, though, takes that premise and melds it with another indebted to Die Hard:  one renegade eluding his foes in a limited space.  Vincent has to deliver the coke to the giant nightclub complex owned by the crime boss, which he’s more than willing to do–but naturally things don’t go so smoothly, and the dope is stolen from him before he can hand it over.  Soon Vincent has to make his way all over the crowded, deafeningly loud nightclub, from disco to private club to high-class restaurant to kitchen to poolroom to offices, desperately trying to find the drugs, his son and/or the kidnapper, all the time pursued by a variety of opponents on both sides of the law.  Oh, and did I mention that he got stabbed when he stole the coke in the first place?  So he’s also bleeding while all this is going on.
Sleepless Night is exhilaratingly exciting stuff, and Jardin (who also wrote the script with Nicolas Saada) does an expert job of keeping the logistics and plotline in order.  The picture is a nonstop race against time, with some wild action sequences, notably a kitchen battle so brutal it becomes black comedy.  Because the nightclub is virtually the co-star of the picture, Jardin wisely made an unconventional choice for his cameraman:  Tom Stern, Clint Eastwood’s house cinemtographer for the past decade, who’d never done a foreign film before.  The production design by Hubert Pouille also deserves special note, as does the unrelenting editing by Marco Cave and Christophe Pinel.  
As noted, the script does a better job of moving the action along than of developing strong characters, and the dialogue is on the cartoonish side.  But that’s why God made rewrites.  There’s also a small diminishment of suspense around two-thirds of the way through, as Vincent and his pursuers chase through the same set of locales in what becomes a bit of a loop, leading to a certain repetitiveness (although Jardin pulls out of it for a terrifically crazy ending).  The picture isn’t ready for Brad Pitt or Ryan Gosling just yet.  But it’s damn close:  Sleepless Night is already a long night’s worth of fun.  

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."