Blake HowardComment

“Sleepless” (2016) an action film with the same side-effects as Valium

Blake HowardComment
 “Sleepless” (2016) an action film with the same side-effects as Valium

“Sleepless” is a remake of a French movie titled “Nuit blanche” or “Sleepless Night” (2011) directed by Frédéric Jardin. The original film’s synopsis describes a night where a deep cover operative must deal with the consequences of his identity being revealed and his family being put in jeopardy. “Sleepless” just barely colours in those lines. Set in a labyrinthine Las Vegas riddled with institutional corruption, this lazy, action oriented, undercover cop story feels like it doesn’t know what it wants to be. It’s an unfinished assembly of much better movies such as “Donnie Brasco” and “The Departed” and movies that also star Jamie Foxx like “Miami Vice.” The title “Sleepless” seems to have no reference to anything that happens in the movie. The best I can figure is that it’s a question; unfortunately for “Sleepless” it also provides an answer.

Undercover agent Vincent Downs (Foxx) participates in an armed robbery of a drug courier that turns into a back alley shoot ‘em up. At the conclusion of the fray between the robbers and the courier’s security force, Downs loses his mask and the criminals see his face. Internal Affairs (IA) agents Bryant (Michelle Monaghan - “True Detective,” “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”) and Dennison (David Harbour - “Stranger Things” and deliverer of great speeches) are tasked with investigating the scene and the government issued bullet shells reek of crooked cops.  Rubino (Dermot Mulroney) a slick haired casino owner of the stolen drugs sends his team to assault Downs and kidnap his son Thomas (Octavius J. Johnson) in order to get his product back. Rubino is on the hook so-to-speak with the burn scarred hot head and local crime boss Novak (played by Scoot McNairy). 

“Sleepless” is not unpredictable, it’s directionless. Downs’ character feels legitimately crooked from moment one in the film. The small clue that the audience receives to validate his position undercover and continues to be on the side of the law is a quick shot of his face appraising a cork board mapping out the Las Vegas criminal underground. Bryant (Monaghan), who is returning to service after being beaten by a suspect, stands in her office and echoes Downs appraisal of the underworld. It’s strange because in a moment that should really reinforce their connection, it makes the viewing more ambivalent. Downs’ and Bryant’s shared experience unfolds in such an economical way (a rarity for the film) that if you blink you miss it. Monaghan’s Bryant is the brief bright spot of the film.

Screenwriter Andrea Berloff (“Straight Outta Compton,” “Blood Father”) needed a scene to reinforce Downs (Foxx) as a good character in this murky Las Vegas world riddled with crime. There’s a pivotal scene in the “The Departed” where you meet a green Billy (Leonardo DiCaprio) fresh out of the academy and see him antagonised by Dignam (Mark Wahlberg) before the Queenan (Martin Sheen) asks him to do ‘real’ police work by going so far undercover that other than he and Dignam, all in sundry believe that he’s part of the criminal fraternity. There’s an immeasurable weight and constant fear that’s tormenting Billy that’s making him psychologically unstable. Downs just feels like a buffoon. Foxx is a performer capable of depth, subtlety, physical and gestural precision; all of which were napping during his performance in “Sleepless.”

The casino setting is a great arena for the unfolding action but Berloff’s script suffers from the implausibility of characters like the villain opening fire without consequence into the crowd or Downs infiltrating different areas of the casino as teams of operators monitor HD surveillance directing security hired specifically to observe and flag strange behaviour. Las Vegas’ gambling core and fountains of money ‘corrupt all’ were a ripe setting to explore institutional greed at the time of the “Godfather Part II” (1974) - itself a period film. Despite the fact that we’re seeing a collision of organised crime cells and infiltrated government organisations there’s no attempt to tangle with or modernise the themes; “Sleepless” is sadly content with the surface.

Director Baran bo Odar doesn’t resort to a frenetic and deranged shaky camera, but perhaps he should have. Downs is often being battered about, getting stabbed and making clumsy mistakes that jeopardise the safety of his family and patrons with steady clarity. The Paul Greengrass (“Bourne”) formal influences on the entire action oeuvre are as much a stylistic trope as they are an economical one. When the camera is manipulating the movement around the action, it can disguise flaws in the action choreography (see here how many edits and cuts are in this clip of Liam Neeson jumping a fence from “Taken 3” scene).

“Sleepless” asked a question, ‘are you awake, we can’t fix it.’ It took this reviewer two attempts to get through this Valium laced ending. Las Vegas Vice, this is not.

BLAKE HOWARD IS A FILM CRITIC & THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF/CO-FOUNDER OF AUSTRALIAN FILM BLOG GRAFFITI WITH PUNCTUATION . BLAKE IS THE HOST OF THE ONE HEAT MINUTE PODCAST. BLAKE IS ALSO A MEMBER OF THE PRESTIGIOUS ONLINE FILM CRITIC SOCIETY (AND A MEMBER OF THE GOVERNING COMMITTEE), IS A CO-HOST OF GAGGLE OF GEEKS ON SYDNEY'S 2SER COMMUNITY RADIO, A COLUMNIST AT THE AUSTRALIAN ONLINE INSTITUTION DARK HORIZONS AND SWAYS THE TOMATO METER WITH ROTTEN TOMATOES APPROVED REVIEWS.