The Night Never Sleeps (2012)
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Trust me; I'm well aware of how hipster that sounds of me. But nothing else can explain the success. The acting's good. The writing's solid. The theme's freshly spun but nothing award winning. The characters, while highly engaging, have been done before.
Before we dive into the plot and aesthetic itself, try and recall the first time you saw Law And Order's opening sequence. Try and remember that buzz of anticipation it engendered. Treating you to sweeping New York city-scapes; black and whites of NYC law-enforcement and criminals; grainy hand-held footage; those red and blue filters. The synthesizer's foundation beat, the weeping electric guitar dueling with that riffing clarinet, the driving but restrained drums competing with the siren's wail.
Yeah? You jazzed? Me too.
That's what The Night Never Sleeps nailed. Not to imply they ripped anyone off, mind you, but it's that tone, that mood, which (unlike L&W's intro) pervades every facet of the film.
Detective Cavanaugh (Dan Brennan) is a cop of the old-guard coming to terms with a newer, PC-friendly police force. He's not above beating a perp that deserves it, and he'll bend the rules for a lead on a case, but he's no dirty cop either. He's got a deep connection with the community, and while he holds the so-called Blue Line and looks out for his own cops when it comes to relatively harmless infractions, he keeps the citizens' interest at top priority. As Never Sleeps opens, he takes under his wing Officer Rourke (Stephanie Finochio): she's not a rookie per-se, but she's new to the beat and Cavanaugh's team.
After an arrest the pair are doing their usual cop routine – stopping around for coffees, driving around town aimlessly, casually discussing backstories (hey, they're movie cops, they haven't got all night to explain where they came from) – when a murder initiates what's a standard * Longest Night Ever * plot line. They've got a dead cop, zero leads, and a rapist and cop-killer on the run, along with an aggressively pragmatic Internal Affairs agent barking at Cavanaugh (played by Armand Assante, who brings three minutes of brilliance to an otherwise middling acting situation).
The villain, however, steals the show. The so-called 'Iceman' is played by Russ Carmada, who with his dark looks and sharp goatee was all but born to play a baddie. Normally I'd complain about the over-the-top antagonist, and Iceman's definitely over the top; cartoonish, even. But there's a balance to the character in the writing and dialogue. Nearly every scene he's in eventually devolves into a sort of verbal thrashing where Iceman channels his inner Hannibal Lecter to viciously jab at his target, whether that's restaurant owners, detectives, his own crew, or – in one particularly enlightening scene – his own reflection in the mirror. Iceman breathes pure menace, exudes perversion, and somehow skips right over the Villain's Uncanny Valley and into the other end of the bell curve, which is populated entirely by terrifying people you'd never want to so much as pass on the street much less interact with.
The clock is ticking. It's Jaded Veteran and The Rookie versus the Remorseless Psychopath. In other words, it's a standard setup, and even the Iceman isn't a strong enough character to freshen up an old plot line. There's one fairly shocking twist about halfway in which caught me with my pants down, but that alone isn't enough to elevate the film to my current rating. (There's also, as a warning, some nudity and an instance of sexual assault, so viewers with sensitivities to those subjects should think twice.) When I asked myself why I enjoyed Never Sleeps so much, it all came down to aesthetics.
I'm going against the grain, here judging by Never Sleep's current ratings on IMDb and other review sites. But for me – someone who doesn't particularly care for cops, much less cop-based dramas – aesthetic might be the only thing capable of gripping me for a cop film.
Everything about The Night Never Sleeps is raw grit. The acting frequently falls short of realistic portrayals, but that didn't bother me in the slightest.
It's the sub-HD film, with its graininess perfectly in line with the dirty street-life and criminal elements portrayed as we follow Iceman and his gang on a murderous spree during an impromptu turf-war with rival organizations. It's that crooning tenor sax, growling in the background, sliding up and down the blues-scale, a perfect pure audio manifestation of the futility and hopelessness of fighting crime in such destitute conditions. It's the 'extras' in the background, who for all I know were just actual, normal people who happened to be at on-location sets the night of shooting: grinding and downing shots in the club, picking at greasy-spoon fare in the diner, striding down the sidewalk in the background and bent against the chilly wind.
The writer – Michael Lovagio, a career cop – weaves enough reality into the screenplay to pass believably without crossing into the procedural arena. This isn't your Law And Order "how they do it" sort of film, and considering the larger than life antagonist, it isn't playing within the strict realms of realism either.
The Night Never Sleeps captures the feel better than anything. It's the texture of city life on the wrong side of the tracks; a cop up against the odds who cares too much to color within the lines; a villain who lives and breaks the law for the pleasure of it more than anything.
Most of the time I walk away from a cop flick with the mental equivalent of a shrug. But in this case, The Night Never Sleeps gets a recommendation.