French director Frédéric Jardin's stunning action thriller Sleepless Night premiered to raves at last year's Toronto International Film Festival, enraptured audiences at Fantastic Fest, and roundhouse-kicked its way into viewers’ hearts last week at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival.
Amid all that madness, the movie was optioned by Warner Bros. for an American remake (the latest news is that the studio is in talks with a few screenwriters). This basically seals the deal regarding the film's eminent watchability – although a remake is, frankly, unnecessary, as Jardin's presentation is borderline flawless, and Tomer Sisley, the actor portraying the film's protagonist, has “Star” written all over him. If I had it my way, American audiences would just suck it up and get used to subtitles, already. Alas.
After seeing Sleepless Night, I'm tempted to say that anything (even a remake) that sheds light on this foreign film and catapults it into more viewers' consciousnesses is good enough for me. Because this is a solid little gem of an action flick, building tension from the very first frame, imparting just enough character development to support the players’ plights without weighing down the momentum, bathing every square inch of the primary location in creative camerawork and ambiance-induced claustrophobia, and ratcheting up adrenaline to some incredibly choreographed releases.
Jardin wastes no time easing into the action, as the movie opens on police partners Vincent (Sisley) and Manuel (Laurent Stocker) intercepting a cocaine hand-off in what becomes a car chase and bullet-laden struggle. We learn that the cops are planning to keep the stash for themselves, but when mob boss/nightclub owner Marciano (Serge Riaboukine) catches wind of the double-cross, he kidnaps Vincent's son Thomas (Samy Seghir). The ensuing race against time to rescue his child, which ends up involving other cops from the force (among them the lovely Lizzie Brocheré as Vignali) takes place almost entirely within the bowels of the nightclub.
A single-location film is a feat unto itself, but Jardin makes two incredibly smart decisions: First, he treats the location as a character, introducing us to its various components -- back rooms, kitchens, walk-in freezers, overhead crawl spaces, bathrooms, pool halls, dance floors -- and builds on their importance, eventually involving them in the action. Second, he utilizes a shrill score, the duality of blown-out and shadowed lighting, handheld camera techniques and extremely cramped set pieces to mount the building tension with a sense of disquieting claustrophobia. The director was so intent on authenticity when it came to a feeling of suffocation that he refused to open up walls or build special set pieces for the camera to fit into; every location is real, and every shot is set up within it. No Hollywood tricks are employed here, and it makes all the difference.
In addition to Jardin’s deft work behind the camera, Sisley's devotion to his role -- both the emotional and physical development of his character -- is palpable. Whether he's breaking down in a stairwell, beating a man in a back room or behind the wheel during a high-speed chase, Sisley is giving 110 percent. Plus, he does his own choreography and stunts. Watch your backs, Bruce Willis, Tom Cruise, Matt Damon, Denzel Washington, Daniel Craig and Co. -- this guy is the truth, and he's nipping at your heels.
Sleepless Night is one of those thoroughly satisfying, endlessly entertaining and wholly adrenaline-inducing films that grips on and never lets go. There are echoes of Hitchcock films, The Raid, Die Hard and Drive within its frames (although Jardin would tell you he was primarily influenced by South Korean cinema such as Oldboy), but it does itself justice by proving to be a fully developed standalone piece of cinema. Don't wait for the remake to put this one on your radar: Jardin's version of Sleepless Night is the original, and an instant classic.
Sleepless Night is available on VOD, and opens May 11 in select theaters.