Ingeniously simple yet deceptively intricate, this French police thriller abounds in post–Woo/Tarantino action tropes: the usual galloping gun battles, quirky hoods, absurdly protracted fistfights, and triple-dealing policemen. But co-screenwriter and director Frédéric Jardin also brings a restless intelligence and disciplined glee to Sleepless Night that far surpasses its cinematic influences. Jardin challenges himself and us with a bare-bones plot that takes place in virtually one claustrophobic location: An ostensibly crooked detective, Vincent (Tomer Sisley), steals a satchel full of coke from a Corsican mobster (Serge Riaboukine), who summarily kidnaps the divorced cop’s preteen son (Samy Seghir) and holds him for ransom in a labyrinthine Parisian nightclub. Getting the kid back is a lot harder than hijacking a drug delivery, it turns out, though Vincent does get knifed during the heist—a wound that Jardin slyly returns to throughout the film. Further complications arise in the form of a pair of internal affairs “shit stirrers” (Julien Boisselier and Lizzie Brocheré) and a trio of Caribbean—or is it Turkish?—thugs, and there’s no end to the adrenalized set pieces on the way to the lad’s liberation. It all makes for an involving genre binge, and for once, the thrills aren’t smothered in false gravity or winking cynicism and don’t play out at the expense of character. There are hints of humor and depth early on, but about halfway through, Sleepless Night clicks into something funny and warm without sacrificing its edge; its bruising slapstick (Sisley takes several painful-looking pratfalls), multiple mistaken identities (and ethnicities), and well-developed characters accumulate into something uncommonly human for a shoot-’em-up.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 9, 2012