The limber French thriller Sleepless Night takes place in a cool blue city and a dark, crowded nightclub, over a day and a long evening during which cops and gangsters wrangle over 10 kilos of cocaine and a young boy. Policeman Tomer Sisley has been robbing drug dealers on the side with his colleague Laurent Stocker. When the heist that opens the film goes awry, local heavy Serge Riaboukine figures out that Sisley stole his stash and kidnaps his kid (Samy Seghir) as leverage to get it back. Two internal-affairs investigators, plus a group of thugs who’ve prearranged to buy the coke, further complicate matters as the action escalates and the cavernous venue fills up with partygoers.
Greyhound-lean and adrenaline-dazed, Sleepless Night keeps up a relentless pace once it arrives at its main location. Its agile camera tracks its characters through the club, its adjoining restaurant, and a warren of back rooms, peering up at their sweat-beaded, weary faces as events go increasingly off-course. It’s the worst night of Sisley’s life, but he navigates it through hordes of oblivious drinkers, dancers, and karaoke singers looking for a good time, as well as cooks and bartenders just going about their working routine. The film maneuvers its parties around like chess pieces, and makes full use of its setting—one woozy getaway finds a character evading his pursuers by taking refuge in a group dance-floor shuffle that’s erupted to “Another One Bites The Dust.” Another brutal brawl makes use of everything within grabbing range in the industrial kitchen.
Given how much it’s in motion, Sleepless Night doesn’t have much time for character development, but Sisley is a memorable antihero whose toughness barely masks his growing desperation and exhaustion, as his bleeding knife wound serves as the film’s version of a countdown clock. A few twists offer additional insight into his motivations, but all that really needs to come through is his solitude; between a job in which no one seems trustworthy and a world that otherwise seems indifferent, his son is the only stable thing in his life. The phone calls Sisley fields from his justifiably concerned ex-wife are a reminder that even if he does make it out safely with the boy, he may not be deemed fit to keep him.