Rated – R
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Starring: Al Pacino, Robin Williams, Hilary Swank
Before Chris Nolan threw himself into the Batman franchise, he directed three films: Following, Memento, and Insomnia. Insomnia is the only one where he didn’t write and is a remake of the 1997 Norwegian film. I haven’t seen the original so there won’t be any comparisons in this review.
Will Dormer (Pacino) is a veteran Los Angeles detective that is brought in to northern Alaska to solve a murder. It happens to be midsummer where the sun never fully sets and it remains sunny all day. Dormer never gets used to this, but it’s only one of the causes for his inability to sleep.
The film revolves around the murder of a high school girl who had a secret that even her boyfriend and best friend didn’t know about. As Dormer weaves his way around the town interrogating major suspects during the investigation, he’s shadowed by a young Alaskan cop, Ellie Burr (Swank), whose purity and by-the-book qualities will surely not sit well with Dormer. The plot takes a turn when Dormer accidentally kills his partner, Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan), as he chased a suspect through a thick fog. Feeling nervous, Dormer frames the death of his partner on the suspect, but this becomes something Ellie questions as she looks into the incident further.
Pacino needs no introduction, but in Insomnia he’s able to show off his physical acting abilities and by the second half of the film, he’s hurting from the consecutive days without any sleep. But he keeps up with Dormer’s edginess as the veteran detective who doesn’t follow the rules to catch the bad guy. Full of guilt and under a lot of pressure to rid his name from a past incident that has his job back in Los Angeles under its own investigation, Pacino gives Dormer the look that he’s about to crack at any moment. Watching him is like watching a ticking time bomb about to explode.
Nolan surrounds the film with a dark tone, which is countered by the constant daylight that flows through every scene. It’s the night and day mood of the good cop and bad cop; the guilty conscience and the righteous murderer. We keep on spinning around this tale, chasing the suspect behind Dormer who is always just a few steps behind. But what Nolan presents is the question of morality between the good guys and the bad guys. Where does one draw that fine line?
There are twists and there are surprising turns throughout, which is why I can’t reveal much more. What I will say is that Robin Williams plays Walter Finch, a main suspect in the murders. Pacino and Williams doesn’t share many scenes together, but when they do it’s a show-stopper. Williams is obviously known more for his comedic roles, but his shortlist of serious roles is proof that he was certainly a talented drama actor as well. Overall, Insomnia is a fulfilling murder mystery flick surrounded by gifted actors and a great filmmaker. Do not pass this film up.