Synopsis – A cop with a connection to the criminal underworld scours a nightclub in search of his kidnapped son.
My Take – From the trailers, this film looks like just another film about dirty cops stuck in a situation where they have to clean up their own mess, haven’t we seen too many of those already? After some pretty corny cop films in the 1980s, 1990 started off its decade pretty well with Q & A and Internal Affairs. As we moved through the 90s, Hollywood served up Unlawful Entry, Cop Land and the Best Picture Oscar nominee L.A. Confidential among others. In the first decade of the 21st century, we got a chance to enjoy Denzel Washington‘s Oscar-winning performance in Training Day, followed by the underrated 16 Blocks and, of course, the Best Picture Oscar winner The Departed. The current decade has given us less popular dirty cop films like Rampart and The Place Beyond the Pines to name a few. Honestly, I didn’t expect anything outstanding, but something a little bit like director Michael Mann‘s Miami Vice or Collateral (both also starring Jamie Foxx), but I was surprised to learn that this Baran bo Odar directed film was actually an official remake of the 2011 French film Nuit Blanche, which incidentally was also excellently remade and released as the Tamil language Indian film Thoongaa Vanam (2015). And for a change I must say, the Indian remake is far superior to the American, despite obvious budget constraints. This new Jamie Foxx action flick is a bit bi-polar as it alternates between being sometimes good and sometimes bad. Keeping the fact that the despite the unique setting, the standard screenplay makes the film like just another B film filled with clichés, especially when it’s trying too hard to be entertaining. Jamie Foxx who I usually like, really comes across to gruff in the beginning which did work, but has the film goes on we see more to his character, which to me didn’t work, cause the surprises here didn’t work, I felt it didn’t really add much to anything here. But yes some of the action is really spectacular.
The story follows Vincent Downs (Jamie Foxx), a vice in the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, who along with his corrupt partner Sean Cass (T.I.) rob a bag of cocaine from a group of hooded thugs that they unceremoniously dispatch in the process. In order to prevent the forensics department to get a hold of his shell casings from last night, Downs convinces his sergeant to assign the homicide scene to him and Cass. When their sergeant is assigning a team to investigate the homicide scene, Downs and Cass convince him to give them the case. Meanwhile, in the same department, Internal Affairs detective Jennifer Bryant (Michelle Monaghan) is recovering from a drug bust gone wrong. Bryant’s partner, Doug Dennison (David Harbour) and the police psychologist express concern for Bryant’s mental and physical state, but she insists on getting back to work. Bryant is also investigating the aforementioned drug murder and is convinced that members of LVMPD are involved, especially Downs. Unknown to Downs & Cass that the cocaine they stole actually belonged to the dicey casino owner Stanley Rubino (Dermot Mulroney), who in response kidnaps Downs’ 15 year old son, Thomas (Octavius Johnson) and demands that Downs bring the drugs to his casino if he ever wants to see his son again. As Downs is trying to hide his son’s predicament from the teen’s mother, Dena (Gabrielle Union), the person for whom Rubino was transporting the drugs, ruthless local crime boss Robert Novak (Scott McNairy) comes looking for his coke. All this drama descending upon Rubino’s casino is compounded when Bryant and Dennison, who have been following Downs, show up at the casino and work to figure out what’s going on. This leads to a series of escalating confrontations and rising stakes for all involved. Yes! This film is pretty consistently engaging; whether that be in terms of its action or some of the dumb things found in the writing. It takes us down its unusual convoluted relationships and chasing rabbit holes than anything else. Much of the story centers on trying to uncover the truth behind a massive drug dispensing ring and who the true leader is. There is not much more I can say past this simplistic plot, but this predictable theme remains constant throughout the entire tale. In fact, the only good thing past this simplicity is Michelle Monaghan‘s character, a very passionate (and obsessive) cop caught between a lot of rocks and hard places. Her fiery determination, single minded sense of justice, and act first ask later attitude adds the needed excitement to this otherwise bland tale. And the film is surprisingly humorous, though how much is on purpose vs. accidental remains to be seen. Much of the film has very “silly” moments that had me laughing by how cheesy and out of place it was (e.g. random people showing up, surprisingly bright dealers forgetting to check things, and a seemingly endless supply of ammunition). At the same time it’s a very instance polemic drama about the tangle weave of corruption. In between trying to take a breath, you the filmgoer get to experience endless fistfights, stabbings, and delectable shootouts. The film is not afraid to be gritty, nasty, perpetually violent, and unforgiving. Yeah entertainment value exits here but there’s very little character buildup. At 95 exhausting minutes, the film is kinda more “soulless” than symbolic. One might assume that the bluffs, debts, and desperate high-stakes gambles of the plot would find some resonance in the setting—a casino, but unlike the original, the film gives no sense of the layout of its main location. But it bests the original in one respect: It isn’t filmed in sweaty-palmed handheld close-ups. Swiss-German director Baran Bo Odar scores a minor coup in getting Mihai Malaimare Jr., the cinematographer of The Master, to shoot the film. As in the Liam Neeson potboiler A Walk Among The Tombstones, Malaimare seems to have been brought on to make an exercise in generic pulp look like it was made by someone who gives a damn—to give it negative fill and negative space. His camerawork is sharply chiseled and angular, often dead-centered as it clings to the visual line of Vincent’s shoulders.
However, despite trying really hard, as I had hoped it would, the film fails when it wants to be something akin to the above mentioned Michael Mann films, which it clearly isn’t. The endless game of hide and go seek the drug gets old really fast, as a giant bag full of cocaine continued to disappear despite all the high technology and hired help. Watching Foxx and the rest of the cast go in endless circles lost its entertainment value quickly, and lacked very little suspense. In addition, much of the concepts they highlighted in the trailers did not last long in this film, which was very disappointing to say the least. The whole concept of kidnap the kid and try to find him was done a few years back especially when Liam Neeson’s Taken decided to have sequels. All these shortcomings came from what seemed a lack of direction in what type of film they wanted. Some of the actions of the characters don’t make any sense and are staged in an unbelievable manner. My favorite example is the moment when one of the bad guys aims with his gun at Jamie Foxx. He could easily shoot him now, but what does he do? He walks a few steps back, without any reason, since he’s already in a safe distance from the helpless Foxx. Then suddenly Foxx’ son in the film drives into him with his car, without making any noise first, so the bad guy is surprised by his death, really? These things would not happen in real-life, only in films, where the director is not able to block and stage a scene in a believable manner. Or he simply doesn’t care for realism or logical actions by motivated characters. The whole showdown is ridiculous and unintentionally funny because of the bad direction and the mediocre writing. Although the likable cast helps draw you in and there are a couple decent twists late in the story, the plotting feels like a throwback to genre films of the late 80s and early 90s and the overall quality is as unremarkable as the corrupt cop tales from earlier in the 2010s. The actors do their best with what they are given, and deliver their lines with conviction. There is a sense of urgency for each character to achieve their mission. They all have strong motivations, and can get a little shady in their means of achieving their goals. Where this film falters is in the script itself. Characters do things so out of place, and make some of the dumbest decisions simply because the plot demands it to move the action along. The film had some cool ideas, but wasn’t quite sure how to execute them correctly. Jamie Foxx does well in his role, here in an attempt to be a sole action star; he drives the car fast, shoots the gun cool and gets to show off his fighting moves. It was a little off what I usually expect from Fox but he pulls it off with charm. As mentioned above, Michelle Monaghan is awesome here and does to get more than she usually does in other films, while Gabrielle Union hardly has anything to do. Serious actors Dermot Mulroney & Scoot McNairy are kind of ridiculous and entertaining in their attempts to outshine one another as the film’s antagonists. In supporting roles, David Harbour, Octavius J. Johnson and T.I are likable. On the whole, ‘Sleepless’ is a forgettable film which despite some disposable fun fails to live up to its potential due to an incompetent script.
Directed – Baran bo Odar
Rated – R
Run Time – 95 minutes