Constructing a decent thriller’s like building a house of cards: get it right, and you have something that stands by itself. Make a mistake, and the whole thing collapses in a heap. Sleepless, a remake of a French thriller, Sleepless Night, in turn adapted from a novel by Frederic Jardin, is one of those frustrating genre films that, after half-an-hour or so of decent construction, starts to wobble before your very eyes.
The set-up is this: Jamie Foxx plays a Las Vegas cop, Vincent Downs, who’s robbed a huge stash of cocaine as part of an undercover investigation into his own precinct. Determined to get their drugs back, some ruthless gangsters stab Vincent in the gut and kidnap his son as leverage. Meanwhile, Internal Affairs officer Jennifer Bryant (Michelle Monaghan) starts following Vincent around – understandably, she’s taken Vincent’s drug-pilfering antics at face value, and concludes that he’s a corrupt cop.
All of this builds to the meat of the thriller: a lengthy game of cat-and-mouse in a Vegas casino. There’s Vincent, who shows up in the hope of getting his son back; the establishment’s dodgy owner, Rubino (Dermot Mulroney), a phalanx of gangsters led by the scrawny, crazed-looking Novak (Scoot McNairy), plus Bryant and her sarcastic partner, Doug (David Harbour, out of Stranger Things). Everything seems set for a high-stakes showdown… until pretty much at the mid-point, everything clatters to the ground.
Sleepless is directed by Switzerland’s Baran bo Odar, and the movie initially looks like a solid calling card for a filmmaker making his American debut (Odar’s previous film was the successful Who Am I from 2014). Some unconvincing blue-screen driving sequences aside, Sleepless looks great, thanks to cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr, the chap who made Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master look so lavish. The filmmaking which underpins Sleepless‘ inciting incidents – the initial stash grab, Vincent’s stab to the gut – is crisp and urgent, and suggests that we’re in for a terse, intense slab of action and intrigue.
The plot, meanwhile, conspires to undo all that tension within the space of a few minutes. Sleepless is one of those thrillers that requires its characters to do illogical things in order to keep the story on track – vital items are grabbed and then lost again, villains are ruthlessly efficient and absurdly careless the next. The action escalates, as you might expect, but only in its outlandishness – what begins as a thriller set in what feels like the real Las Vegas soon detaches itself from reality so completely that your humble writer half expected a flying saucer to land in the final act.
The outlandishness wouldn’t necessarily matter if Sleepless had the self-awareness of, say, a decent Jason Statham film, but the movie’s largely played straight by its leads. Foxx, all sweat and increasingly grubby clothes, gives his cornered hero a distancing, bullish quality. Monaghan, who’s initially good value as a cop who’s just come off a bruising case-gone-wrong, just looks confused and annoyed by the middle of the movie – probably because the script has her standing in a casino lounge and waiting for something to do for far so long. McNairy, after a decent villain’s introduction, has a similarly thankless role to Monaghan; his cries of “Where are my drugs?” are the film’s predictable refrain. The only actor who really seems to be enjoying himself is David Harbour, who’s clearly aware that Sleepless is a bit of a pot-boiler.
Even at a focused 95 minutes, Sleepless starts to feel longer than it is – probably because so much time is spent following the same characters run round the same locations. After a while, the setting begins to feel less like a casino and more like the Overlook Hotel in The Shining: an inescapable place where all natural laws are suspended. Its cops and gangsters are doomed to keep running to and fro, putting things in lockers and then taking those things back out of lockers. Getting into fights, escaping from the fights, then getting back into fights with the same person again. Going up a lift to the top floor, then going back down again to the ground floor.
Sleepless, then, is the very definition of a thriller that collapses like a house of cards. But with some decent cinematography, and Foxx perspiring and straining for all he’s worth, it should be noted that, while Sleepless does collapse, it at least collapses in style.
Sleepless is out in UK cinemas now.