Insomnia (2002) / Thriller-Mystery

MPAA Rated: R for language, some violence and brief nudity
Running Time: 118 min.

Cast: Al Pacino, Robin Williams, Hilary Swank, Maura Tierney, Martin Donovan
Director: Christopher Nolan
Screenplay: Hillary Seitz (based on the 1997 screenplay by Nikolaj Frobenius, Erik Skjoldbjaerg)
Review published May 24, 2002

Insomnia is probably made for those viewers who are unfamiliar with the 1997 original by Norway's Erik Skjoldbjaerg.  Those who have seen it may see this incarnation as redundant in theme, while the new elements introduced aren't enough to make it any better.  However, under the skillful hand of director Nolan (Memento, Batman Begins), it's a much better film than many other Hollywood remakes have been in recent years, with some of the best work the main players have done in years.

The film starts with two Los Angeles police detectives being flown up to Alaska to investigate the apparent murder of a local 17-year-old girl.  One of the detectives, Will Dormer (Pacino, The Insider), is currently under investigation back home by the Internal Affairs division for putting people behind bars with possibly trumped up evidence.  His partner is going to cut a deal, and Will is angry at him because it could not only tarnish his stellar reputation, but many people he feels belong behind bars could be back out on the street.  They work with the local police and have a good lead, who flees the scene in the fog, and in the resulting confusion, Will kills his partner, and does the best he can to cover things up by attributing this second death to the man that fled.  Both Dormer and the suspect know what really happened, and now the complication begins for Dormer who must apprehend his elusive prey without anyone finding out the truth behind his partner's death.

The only real weakness of Insomnia other than the fact that it is a remake, is that the plot isn't very fresh, and it takes quite a few shortcuts to move the plot along without good explanations as to why.  The theme of a cop and killer being two sides of the same coin has been explored countless times before, and Insomnia doesn't really introduce any new twists on it. 

Still, for a film that lacks a fresh premise, this is surprisingly good stuff.  Nolan proves that he isn't a one-trick pony, and indeed can direct in fine fashion when making a conventional murder case flick.  Pacino does a good job, as usual, but Robin Williams (A.I., One Hour Photo) is the one who impresses, with a performance that helps us remember that he is actually a very good dramatic actor.  Great cinematography by Wally Pfister (Laurel Canyon), who also worked with Nolan on Memento, gives the film a sparse and cold look, complemented by an equally sparse score by another Nolan collaborator, David Julyan (The Descent, The Prestige).

Insomnia has a somber tone throughout, without much action most of the time, so those looking for action-packed dramatics will probably zone out.  It's not an engaging film, but if you're patient, it is absorbing, and you'll probably be on the edge of your seat for the nail-biter finale.  Recommended quite highly for fans of all involved.

Qwipster's rating:

2002 Vince Leo