Insomnia


Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by:Hilary Seitz
Starring: Al Pacino, Robin Williams, Hilary Swank, Maura Tierney, Martin Donovan
Released: September 5, 2002
Grade: A

Renowned Los Angeles detective Will Dormer (Pacino) and his partner Hap Eckhart (Donovan) have flown to the Alaskan town of Nightmute to investigate the murder of a 17-year-old girl.  You get the feeling they’re not there solely for their experience.  There’s tension between Will and Hap and whilst not fully explained, it seems an investigation by internal affairs back home is the main reason.  Hap’s talking about cutting a deal that whilst being truthful, could jeopardise their careers.

On arriving in the quiet town, Will is greeted by the starstruck local detective Ellie Burr (Swank).  She has idolised his work and even wrote her thesis on his investigation of a series of famous L.A. murders.  Will’s knowledge quickly exposes the inexperience of the Nightmute police force.  Within 24 hours, he’s profiled the killer and set a cunning trap that could lure him out of hiding.

Working to perfection, the killer appears at the expected location but in a thick fog, he escapes.  Hunting him through the mist, Will shoots who he thinks is the suspect only to find he has shot and killed his own partner.  It is at this point where this otherwise simple thriller steps to a higher level.  Perceptions can be everything and whilst it was a legitimate accident, Will knows that this with a motive, this will look deliberate.

In a state of shock and panic, he tells everyone it was the unidentified suspect that shot his partner and using his expertise, crafts a quick cover-up.  There’s only one catch.  Will gets a phone call from writer Walter Finch (Williams) who confesses the crime but has an ace up his sleeve.  He saw Will kill his partner and has the evidence to prove it.  He promises to keep quiet if Will pins the crime on the innocent, but suspected, boyfriend of the victim.  And the plot only gets deeper...

Like another great Al Pacino film, Heat, Insomnia is the kind of film that keeps building and building.  There are no lulls but a steady increase in tension all the way through.  As I hinted at earlier, it begins simply enough but fresh layers are exposed and the line between black and white becomes very blurry.  Unlike most serial killer movies, it’s hard to identify who is the hero and who is the villain.

It’s a wonderful setting.  Being set during the summertime in Alaska, there is no night and Will cannot adjust.  He cannot sleep and with his insomnia increasing, his biggest adversary appears not to be Walter Finch but rather his own mind which is deteriorating from night after night of lost sleep.  It’s just another exciting element that will keep you entranced.  Trivia buffs will also note that Will’s surname, Dormer, is a play on the French and Spanish verb “dormir” which means “to sleep”.

The film is followed by much hype as it is director Christopher Nolan’s follow-up film to the cult hit Memento which starred Guy Pearce.  Unlike his previous film, Nolan didn’t write the screenplay for Insomnia.   It’s actually a remake of a Norwegian film of the same name made in 1997.  I haven’t seen the original but Nolan’s English adaptation is wonderfully filmed and capitalises on great acting, great editing and great music.  He’s one of the best in the business today.

Singling out Al Pacino, his performance is impressive.  I’m not sure if he “got into” his character by not sleep himself but you could see the changes in his appearances and feel the changes in his mind as each day passed.  It’s a great role and he’s well supported by a surprisingly good Hilary Swank who, in her first major role since her Oscar-winning turn in Boys Don’t Cry, dispels any nay-sayers.