Wednesday, September 25, 2013

In short: Nuit Blanche (2011)

aka Sleepless Night

Frédéric Jardin's crime thriller stars Tomer Sisley as the cop Vincent. Vincent and his partner Manuel (Laurent Stocker) hold up a drug transport meant for some business partners (Joey Starr and Birol Ünel) of dealer and nightclub owner José Marciano (Serge Riaboukine). Things go quite wrong: Vincent is hurt by one of the two men involved in the transport, and loses his mask during the altercation. Manuel guns down one of the men but the other one escapes.

A bit later, Marciano kidnaps Vincent's son Thomas (Samy Seghir). He is, of course, willing to exchange the kid against his drugs. Vincent takes his father role more seriously than his gangster hobby, packs the drugs into a bag and goes off to Marciano's club. Unfortunately, things become complicated there really fast, with problems mounting. Drugs disappear, two internal affairs cops (Lizzie Brocheré and Julien Boisselier), one of whom is highly corrupt, get involved, Marciano's business partners get impatient, and soon everyone is chasing Vincent around the club.

Nuit blanche is a fantastic example of what you can do with the old crime and chase thriller rituals if you know what you're doing, have a director like Jardin, and a tight script.

It's a film all about propulsion, the kind of movie that never stops once it has set up its narrative rules and its plot, going through chases and fights and clever little twists to the formula its working to with perfect pacing and equally perfect timing. How good Jardin is at this becomes even more impressive once you've realized that the largest part of the movie takes place during the course of a single night, in a single night club; it's quite a large club, to be sure, yet I never would have expected a film could actually hold the excitement of what comes down to various factions chasing each other around just a handful of rooms for an hour of real time.

Yet Jardin not only keeps the height of this excitement high, he also manages to tell a clever story in a clever way while doing so, somehow finding room and breath for an excellent acting ensemble to give his characters just enough life to save them from just being empty clichés. In this sense, I can't help but read Nuit blanche as a (probably inadvertent) message to Luc Besson that explains quite beautifully that, yes, you can make an exciting thriller in Europe without pretending to be stupid and without assuming your audience is stupid.

The only problem I have with Nuit blanche is how little it lends itself to a detailed write-up. Like most films so successful at being tight and breathless, Nuit blanche is better watched than talked about.

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