A bottle movie is one that is based almost entirely in one location, with a single cast list that is forced into the space, often to resolve a conflict. When utilised correctly and at its best, a bottle movie can be truly memorable and leave lasting impressions - 'The Hateful Eight' and 'Rear Window' immediately spring to mind as personal favourites. Sometimes you watch a bottle film and can't help but think that it needed to be fleshed out more; that the gimmick doesn't work. Other times, you watch a film that could be expertly adapted to a stage play due to its refined nature and singular theme. 'Night Shift' is the latter, and would probably be better served in that way.
Based on the successful 2016 French novel by author Hugo Boris, titled 'Police', Luxembourgish writer and director Anne Fontaine ('The Innocents', 'Coco Before Chanel', 'Adoration') takes the helms to adapt this book for the screen, but unfortunately, it hits wide of the mark.
'Night Shift' follows three Parisian police officers over the course of - you guessed it - one night shift, where they have been tasked in transferring a criminal to the airport so he can be returned to his home country. On this car ride is Virgine (Virginie Efira, 'Elle'), Aristide (Omar Sy, 'The Intouchables', 'Jurassic World') and Erik (Grégory Gadebois, 'J'accuse'). Police are well-known for strictly following orders in trying to keep the peace, however, due to external problems they are all facing, they are forced to confront their own feelings rather than merely doing as they are told.
Virgine is greatly affected by something that is happening in her life, and it's this fragility that causes her to initially break the rules and read the criminal's records. Here, she discovers the awful truth that should he be returned home, he will almost certainly face execution. Virgine sets out the try to convince the other officers that he should instead be set free, and what follows is a car ride filled with passionate arguments of morality, human rights, love and loss.
This is a fascinating premise that manages to touch on many prevalent themes currently dominating French culture, such as immigration, the role of the police, alcoholism, freedom of choice and more. However, Fontaine's desire to showcase all these themes are ultimately this film's downfall, as it struggles to stay focused on any one idea long enough to truly be explored. I would have loved to have seen 'Night Shift' be exclusively based in the car, in a real-time ride that gives each of these officers a chance to express themselves properly. It would have allowed the ideas of this film to breathe and actually leave the audience with something to talk about afterwards.
Virgine and her colleagues don't actually start their journey to the airport until about 40 minutes into the film, and with a run time of only 100 minutes, that's far too long to spend on a prologue. Audiences didn't need to know the full extent of the backstories, or why they are all in a wretched mood at the start of the journey. Treat your audience with respect and intelligence, and they will surely puzzle the missing pieces together. The first act is wasted with repeated scenes from different perspectives, elongated explanations spent setting up the lives of the officers. It's clear why Fontaine decided to structure the film this way, as it goes a long way in eliciting the desired sympathy, but with so much to squeeze into a short film, you're left as an audience with minimal care.
I would have loved to have seen 'Night Shift' be exclusively based in the car, in a real time ride that gives each of these officers a chance to express themselves properly.
As with any bottle movie, it is reliant on a brilliant cast that knows this script expertly well, and 'Night Shift' is no exception. Sy is his usual expressive and jubilant self, but unlike his Hollywood career, when it comes to French cinema, he always manages to balance his exuberance with a delicate touch. I have not seen Efira in anything before, but the Belgium actress is excellent as the emotional heartbeat of the film. We see her go from madly in love, to dismissive parent, to moral compass, and she wears each badge on her sleeve with precision. So too with Gadebois, who acts as Virgine's main antagonist, but does so with a strong belief and protected conscience that makes for a thrilling game of ethical chess.
The tension in the car continues to rise as the airport approaches, and Fontaine does really well in pacing that rhythm. She doesn't necessarily focus the camera on who is talking, nor who is commanding the scene, but chooses the subject carefully on who is most needed to be seen. All three officers have their baggage that weighs heavily on their shoulders, and each cop has their chance to express their concerns - the only problem is that they aren't given the necessary outlet to really harness them.
'Night Shift' is a fairly messy approach to what should otherwise be a very focused and minimalist film. Let down by wanting to cover too much - and not realising where the strengths of the film lie - results in an unfortunately forgetful and unsympathetic exploration. Whilst it's held together with expert acting and a fascinating premise, its full promise is never realised, and I can't help but think that the novel may be a better use of time.