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No sooner than upon leaving the Alamo Drafthouse after my first screening of Fantastic Fest, did I notice the news that “Sleepless Night,” the film I just saw, had been optioned for an American remake by Warner Brothers. It was a bit of a Nostradamus moment for HitFix's Drew McWeeny, who introduced the film with the forewarning that some American studio would remake the film and destroy what made him love it.
I suspect he will be as right about the second part of that prediction as he was about the first since the best thing about the film is its setting, not only in the club where more than 80 percent of the film resides, but more generally in France where a multicultural cast of characters freshens up a story that while skillfully told would be a bit paper thin otherwise. Of course, the simplicity of Frederic Jardin’s action flick is what makes it ripe for a remake, a film that’s a series of chess moves after two men rob Jose Marciano, a drug kingpin, of 10 kilos of cocaine and the kingpin takes his revenge by kidnapping the son of one of the men named Vincent (Tomer Sisley).
In just the first of many twists Jardin has up his sleeve, Vincent is actually a cop and in spite of a strained relationship with his kid, he doesn’t think twice before heading to The Tarmac, a club with the world’s biggest dance floor, an underground casino and most notably, a giant kitchen – all of which is not only a playground for the rich and frivolous, but allows for the film to roam as Vincent aims to return the coke without getting his son killed while he’s chased by a rival drug dealer, two cops convinced he’s dirty and of course, Marciano and his henchmen.
Exciting at first as Vincent becomes a chameleon in the club, doing the shake to “Another One Bites the Dust” and making out with a stranger on an elevator for cover, the film starts to become a victim of its own success as it becomes clear that Jardin will leave no loose ends in complications it piles up for Vincent to untangle – in other words, the unexpected becomes the expected with the only wiggle room existing in how it happens. Thankfully, Jardin has the chops to stage some interesting setpieces within limited space – one of which in particular should applauded for letting the action occur from an obstructed viewpoint where the audience is left to imagine what kind of beating Vincent is administering to a man he catches abusing his girlfriend — and can pen clever gangster speak to spare. But for a film scored to throbbing house music, it’s actually the more subtle aspects that are impressive.
Frankly, the breathless pace of “Sleepless Night” doesn’t allow for much in the way of character development, so it’s left up to the slightest of impressions to make everyone onscreen interesting on the run. While the performances are uniformly solid, Jardin’s diversity in casting from the dark-skinned, German-born Sisley as his lead to the rival drug dealers (Joey Starr and Serge Riaboukine), who even make note of the similarities between their Caribbean and Corsican heritages, instantly adds a texture to the film that makes all the difference, suggesting how their motives are inherently different based on the cultures they come from. Yet this probably isn’t what Jardin wants an audience to think about when watching “Sleepless Night” since if it’s successful, there shouldn’t be much thinking involved at all. Although it’s not always fast enough for one to look past its moving pieces, “Sleepless Night” is still an entertaining thriller that moves like clockwork.
"Sleepless Night" does not yet have a U.S. distributor. It plays Fantastic Fest once more on Tuesday, September 27th at 12:30 at the Drafthouse South Lamar #1.