Director: Dario Argento
Seen via: Artisan DVDRating: 6.5 / 10
Due to some personal chaos, it's been a while since the last Argento-thon installment. I swear it wasn't the disheartening experience of watching The Phantom of the Opera. But I never start anything I don't intend to finish, and now that I have time on my hands again, let's put on the black gloves and finish this thing off once and for all. Onward, to Sleepless!
Sleepless opens with a quick flashback to Turin in 1983, where Inspector Moretti (played by Max Von Sydow) walks into the scene of a brutal murder where a young boy has watched his mother die. Moretti assures the boy he'll find the killer, even if it takes the rest of his life. Then we're back to the present, in what seems to be an unrelated event, as we watching a hooker from what appears to be the POV of her client. (It's not quite as creepy as it sounds.) When he gets a little too demanding and she finds a collection of knives and newspaper clippings about murder, she decides reasonably enough that it's time to get out.
Ignoring the blip that was The Phantom of the Opera, Sleepless continues Argento's shift toward films that are more stylistically grounded than his earlier work. The color palette is more subdued, the kills are less outlandish (although no less brutal), and the plot veers steadily away from psuedo-science and the occult. Moretti's preference for solving things the "old-fashioned" way and his constant railing against technology is also a nice touch. Argento seems to be lamenting the old-fashioned legwork that drove his earlier stories forward, as well as the waning appeal of the slower detective story in the face of flashier, action-driven crime. (He'd cave in and use technology as the central plot device in his next film.)
Sydow is definitely a highlight of Sleepless, and is able to carry it through many of its slower parts. If there's one flaw with his performance, it's that he's too good an actor! I've become so accustomed to the below-average dubbing and overacting in older Italian films that Von Sydow seems out of place. Everyone else is thrown into sharp contrast when he's around, and it's a little jarring. Still, having a more relatable character mixed in with the caricatures isn't a bad thing.
I don't know if it was the music, the style, or the poor picture quality of the DVD I had, but I'd never in a million years have guessed this was released in 2001. That said, I'm fine with it. Like Moretti bemoaning the loss of old-fashioned detective work, this film in a way feels like Argento having fun with a lot of his old methods one last time before deciding to move on. It's not as solid or brazenly stylish as his older works, but it's a good revisitation of everything you'd expect in a classic Argento plot.
Sleepless is a return to form for Argento, and almost feels like a swan song for the giallo. Max Von Sydow brings a level of class and technique that isn't usually present. When it's really firing on all cylinders, it's pretty suspenseful.
There's too much downtime. Things definitely could have been tightened up a little, as there are many places near the end where the seams in the writing start to show. Von Sydow also throws everyone else's bad acting into stark contrast against his own.
Who writes a children's book about a farmer systematically murdering all his farm animals?
Sleepless is worth a watch if you've seen all the classic Argento gialli and want a little more of the same. There's no real new ground broken, but it's a reminder that Dario hadn't completely lost his touch, even this late in his career. I'd use this film to mark the turning point past which Argento really began experimenting (to sometimes disastrous results).