Directed By: Frédéric Jardin
Written By: Frédéric Jardin and Olivier Douyère, from a scenario by Jardin and Nicolas Saada
Starring: Tomer Sisley, Serge Riaboukine, Julien Boisselier, Joey Starr, Laurent Stocker, Birol Ünel, and Lizzie Brocheré
Director of Photography: Tom Stern, Edited By: Marco Cavé and Christophe Pinel, Production Design: Hubert Pouille, Original Music: Nicolas Errèra
The pounding rhythms of the club in Sleepless Night form a mix tape of styles through the narrative of this French thriller by newcomer Frédéric Jardin. While the film takes place in reality with high situation stakes, the film moves from room to room and presents what feels like an entirely different world, each with its own ecosystem and rules. Yet all are held together by the music that echoes throughout.
The comparisons some critics have made to Die Hard for Sleepless Night are not far off, as the film presents an intense, non-stop thrill ride about one man’s insane attempts to rescued his son from gang leaders. Jardin’s film begins with a murder and ends in blood. Like the recently lauded The Raid (though not in these corners), Sleepless Night is low in ambitions but high in execution. It’s a genre piece done right, never too distracting with its narrative, but always fascinating in it’s visual set pieces.
The film begins at daybreak with two men stalking and combating another vehicle, murdering the men inside and stealing the large bags of cocaine in the trunk. But soon enough, we realize these guys are also cops, and one of them is our protagonist, Vincent (Tomer Sisley). After some clichéd dialogue (Vincent’s kid doesn’t like him, his ex-wife nags at him), the film gets an adrenaline shot to the chest when we realize Vincent’s son has been taken, and the gangsters are willing to trade his life for the bags of cocaine.
Sleepless Night skips what usually would have been two acts of character building, seeing Vincent’s fall from grace, to get us right to the action. Things don’t go as planned: the coke is hidden and then goes missing; there are a couple undercover agents on Vincent’s tail, and there are rival gangsters and double crossers admits. Jardin treats this all without winking, or trying to form a minimalist thriller type in the way of Drive. He simply lays it out as his map and then goes straightforward. But he brings visual wit and constant redirection throughout.
Unlike the constant thundering noise of The Raid, Jardin is able to play a string of notes here, most evident in the visual design of the club, each room with its own style and atmosphere. Along with director of photography Tom Stern (who has shot Clint Eastwood’s films for the last decade) he creates what seems almost like a fun house: there’s the epic dance night floor, the fancy garishly-yellow restaurant, the pure white kitchen (that doesn’t remain white during the film’s knockout fight sequence), and many more.
Sleepless Night doesn’t offer much in terms of character; Vincent isn’t particularly charming or much of a good guy, but we believe in his cause to stick with him (though his most likeable moment is when he stops a could-be-rapist with casual annoyance by chance). And by the end it comes together a little too conveniently. But Jardin certainly makes the film succeed while watching it. It’s not just constant gunshots and fists. It’s a lot of silence and waiting, as the director builds something akin to a high-tense Hitchcock. Of course, the pervading sense of guilt or evil was of course denied by the bouncer.