Friday, April 27, 2012

AT TRIBECA: SLEEPLESS NIGHT


The last couple/few years have seen an atypically high number of awesome thrillers coming out of France. Maybe it's just that I've seen all of them and it isn't actually all that atypical, but Tell No One was great, Point Blank was awesome (unpopular opinion alert: it was better than the John Boorman picture), and now there's Sleepless Night (original title: Nuit Blanche) which is both everything that you'd ever hope to want from a cop/gangster picture and yet one that almost seems like it was made by someone who'd never seen one before. In the best possible way.

Sleepless Night unfolds in a way that renders assumptions about what kind of picture it is and who its characters are absolutely worthless. Apparent stick-up artists turn out to be cops. Friends are covert enemies. Gangsters feel remorse about the dirt they do. People hide in plain sight. Brilliant plans go awry. Utterly fucking ridiculous extemporizing actually works. Pretty early on, you realize the only thing to do is just sit back and bask. Well, if the way you “sit back” is on the edge of your seat chewing your knuckle to keep from shattering glass with high-pitched “what the fuck . . .?”s. Because while it may not follow conventional diagrammatic thriller beats, this shit is fucking intense, dude.

For such a complex and nuanced movie, the basic premise is quite simple: Vincent (Tomer Sisley) and Manu (Laurent Stocker) pull a rip and run on a couple coke dealers, one of whom gets got, the other of whom gets away. Vincent catches one in the crossfire, but tis but a flesh wound and in any case they get the coke. It then transpires that Vincent and Lauren are cops, with an eye out for a mean-as-a-snake Internal Affairs bull (Julien Boisselier, at times bearing an eerie physical and vocal resemblance to Aiden Gillen). Vincent's son (Samy Seghir, who gives an excellent kid performance) busts his balls because all his police work has him a bit distant and mercurial. Vincent barely has time to reflect on how just the ball-busting is before the gangster whose coke he and Manu ripped kidnaps the kid and holds him in his massive demimonde multiplex (I mean, shit, there's a disco, a bar, a restaurant, a pool hall, and a whorehouse all in separate parts of the building under the same roof; if the place wasn't crawling with angry French people with guns I'd totally fucking hang out there). Vincent's task? Bring the coke, trade it for the kid. If you put twenty euros on “there's no way it's that simple” then you backed the winning horse.

Almost the entire movie takes place in that massive club, and after a while, Vincent gets a real feel for the place. In one of my favorite ongoing plotlines, he becomes kind of weirdly friendly with the kitchen workers, even though he never says much of anything to them that isn't yelling or cursing. But there's a bond that forms when you corner a man and demand in Franglais that he help you fill up a couple dozen plastic bags with flour to pass it off as temporarily missing cocaine. I like to think all the kitchen staff looked at Vincent as he had them do that and went, “Wow, that guy's fucking awesome.” And so when he stops back in they're almost like, “Hey, it's that awesome guy again.”

I wouldn't dream of revealing how all this shakes out. The hour-forty one spends with Sleepless Night is a mesmerizing, dream-like time. Director Frederic Jardin is the truth. The action is absolutely top echelon, with copious, brutal, relatively naturalistic ownage abound. The acting's great. The camerawork is killer. It's cut almost perfectly. Actually, there's only one thing wrong with the movie, and it's not anything cinematic. There's one scene where an ostensible good guy goes a little far in getting information out of a woman who's a lot smaller than him, and not one of the bad guys. Granted, the guy in question was under a bit of stress, and to the best of his knowledge the woman in question was working against him, but there was a moment there where it was a little uncomfortable. No “yeah, but” with that either, it's a definite debit.

That said, it's just about the movie's only one. Sleepless Night's highs rank with the best action cinema's seen. Almost the entire picture is a high. Oh man oh man this fucking movie is good. It's an absolute must-see for anyone who likes cop movies, gangster movies, action movies, and who likes it when all the above keep it fucking French. I know it's not just me, y'all.