Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
Palmer's film is that rare concert doc that isn't for established fans only.
"Sleepless" is one of those movies that needed to be a lot better or a lot worse to make much of an impression. This story of a Las Vegas police officer trying to recover his kidnapped son from bad guys is frustratingly not-terrible. The action sequences, the characterizations, the performances, all could have come together to form a dandy example of what used to be a called a B-movie: a genre film that doesn't have much money to play with but compensates with ingenuity and style. And yet "Sleepless" somehow quite never gets to that level. Its rare moments of quality only make the rest of the movie—a mishmash of conspiratorial plotting and close-quarters fistfights and gunfights—seem lamer. As directed by Baran bo Odar (2010's "The Silence") and scripted by "World Trade Center" writer Andrea Berloff, this remake of the 2011 French film "Sleepless Night" is funny sometimes but not funny enough, exciting sometimes but never exciting enough, and inherently emotional (mainly due to the hero's anguished desire to save his son) yet never willing to run with the emotionalism and turn into a full-blown action melodrama.
Sticking closely to the French original, "Sleepless" starts in the middle of a car chase, with Las Vegas police detective Vincent Downs (Jamie Foxx) and his partner Sean Cass (T.I.) stealing a massive shipment of cocaine from drug dealers working for local crime boss Rob Novak (Scoot McNairy), who supplies a local hotel and casino owner named Stanley Rubino (Dermot Mulroney) with party favors for his high-rolling guests. The bad guys kidnap Vincent's son Thomas (Octavius J. Johnson) to get the drugs back.
The rest of the movie unfolds as an intimate, somewhat contained "Die Hard" variant, with Vincent sneaking around the grounds of the hotel and casino trying to save his boy. The more immediate task of preventing his son's death becomes a stand-in for the repair work he needs to do in his own household: Vincent is divorced from his wife Dena (Gabrielle Union) and on poor terms with Thomas due to his immersion in his job, and the theme of repairing frayed family bonds is never far from the movie's mind. There are also knotty complications involving the drugs that require Vincent to improvise further, and his already tense predicament is made worse by a stab wound he sustained during the opening action sequence: in between fistfights and clever moments of subterfuge, Vincent has to pause to redress the wound on his side. The latter provides "Sleepless" with many of its infrequent moments of humor: the hero is so immersed in the task of saving his son and recovering the stolen drugs without his superior officers finding out that his own adrenaline serves as a makeshift anesthetic. Both he and the audience tend to forget about the pain he's enduring until the action lets up and he remembers that he's in agony.
There's a parallel plot involving Vincent's colleague, Detective Jennifer Bryant (Michelle Monaghan), who was recently beaten up during a drug bust gone awry. There are suggestions that the botched drug raid and Vincent's current situation are connected, and as Jennifer and her partner Doug Dennison (David Harbour) investigate the situation at the hotel, "Sleepless" turns into a somewhat conspiratorial thriller, with the heroes piecing together connections that lead them to realize their adversaries don't have the motives and goals they thought they did. I'm being intentionally vague here because, even though many of the film's twists are telegraphed long in advance, they're well-executed enough to give the movie jolts just when they're needed.