|They may be stuck in their ways, but never say the French don't know how to charm the hell out of their women...|
Sleepless Night takes place over the course of about twenty-four hours and follows a cop (Vincent) who robs a drug dealer which results in the drug dealer kidnapping Vincent's son with the message "Yo, give me my sh*t back or I'll light this little boner on fire" (or something like that, I don't know, it was French, whatever) and then they meet at the drug dealer's night club to do the exchange and then shit hits the fan. You get all that? Because that was a run-on sentence worthy of Cormac McCarthy himself. But pretty much yeah, what you see is what you get when it comes to this movie.
I went into the film with unfairly high expectations (96% on Rotten Tomatoes), I'll be the first to admit, having heard some really good things from various outlets. And I think that's because I was expecting some really, really strong action. To give you a bit of perspective from where I'm coming from, my all-time favorite action scene ever is the club scene from Collateral in which Tom Cruise wastes a bunch of bouncers and Korean gangsters with a methodical precision that would give Hannibal Lector a hard-on. The scene beautifully set up, perfectly executed and concludes with a horrific but absolutely appropriate twist. If it was a short feature, it would be considered a masterpiece. Now why do I bring this up? Because I was expecting Sleepless Night to be in a very similar vein. Now is that a fair avenue of criticism? No, not really, but let me make my stupid case anyway.
In my mind, what elevates a good action movie to a great action movie is characterization. Not character development per se (we ain't time for that sh*t when we're blowing crap up), but actually giving some depth and gravity to the characters we'll be following while the proverbial apocalypse goes on all around them. And making this characterization work is all about economy. Do it fast and do it smart. It's the first rule of writing, right? "Show don't tell. And do it as quickly as f*cking possible." (Okay, so I improvised that last part). But seriously, think of action movies that establish iconic characters immediately and also set the tone of of the entire film. Heat and The Dark Knight come immediately to mind for me. Or even Die Hard, which is in my opinion the greatest pure action movie of all time. No, it's not an action scene, but watching John McClane go from the plane to the limo to the hotel/office party, we get a better sense of who he is than the protagonists in 99% of self-proclaimed character-driven dramas. Once we're drawn to someone, whether hero, villain or anti-hero, the action will pretty much just write itself.
So what am I getting at here? Sleepless Night essentially lacks the pulsating action of a classic Michael Mann film as well as the strong character establishment we need to connect to and in order to feel the tension that the action is supposed to ensnare us with. Let me put it to you this way. At the end of the movie I distinctly remember thinking, "Y'know, I really don't even care if this dude recovers his stupid kid or not." And if your audience doesn't really give a sh*t how the narrative is resolved... well, then you have a problem on your hands.
Sleepless Night isn't bad. But that is exactly what prevents it from being great.
Grade - B