Insomnia (2002)


What a fantastically styled detective thriller that comes with strong performances from the two similarly drawn out male characters. It’s a film that came with director Christopher Nolan’s reputation for lighting his name up in the movie world with ‘Following’ and ‘Memento’ and this third outing gave him the opportunity to make a film with a higher budget and bigger actors. This step up by no means loses anything for Nolan as this is just a brilliant gritty film that really plays on the title itself.

This film’s plot sees an LAPD detective called Will Dormer (Al Pacino) arrive with Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan) in a small town in Alaska to try and assist the local police in finding the killer of a seventeen year old female. The town itself never darkens and after a murky chase and problematic shooting Dormer finds himself struggling to get any shut eye. As his sleepless days and nights continue he begins to find out who the girl’s killer is and their similarities are uncovered. The man knows more than Dormer wishes and this Walter (Robin Williams) won’t go down so easily.

I must say that the style and general moody atmosphere of this movie is impressive. I haven’t watched the original that this remake is based on but apparently it pitches the story and feeling right so that’s a good thing. The misty like endless bright days that plague Dormer on this case are filmed really well and with scenes that blend sound effects and blurred imagery to emphasise his deterioration you definitely get the message of insomnia loud and clear. In fact during the process of watching this film I found myself in some weird zone of feeling tired but not giving up as in the same shoes as Dormer. This is by no means a criticism of the movie more a praising note that the style of the shoot itself really made me feel like I too had insomnia.

The scene at the rickety cabin on some odd bleak looking stony beach is so good, the symbolic fog that becomes like a shroud of misty eyed tiredness for Dormer is thick and sets off the accidental incident that keeps the mystery unravelling. You can tell that more money was afforded to Nolan for this feature with locations and sequences looking amazingly setup, as in the foggy beach chase and so too with the chase between Walter and Will where it ends up seeing the pair run it out in a dangerous human game of Frogger. The Alaskan backdrop of constant daytime hits home the indusive impression of worrying criminal behaviour, more so than the more obvious choice to film a thriller in the night. A running thread of everything painted by the rays of the sun makes it somehow more dark.

Both the performances by the two leading male actors are spot on and they play the tormented sleep deprived characters really well. Al Pacino gives one of his meatier and generally better acting displays in a long time and you utterly buy his smart detective ways but you also find yourself fearing his unstable tendencies. There’s always that look in his eyes and the gruff bark of his voice that dominates as a powerful masculine threat to beware of but this dominance meets its match in the wits and subtlety of creepiness found within Robin Williams’ portrayal of the novelist murderer. He sells the weird and effectively sinister man and though he isn’t too much which is a slight weakness to the story, when he does appear he pretty much takes the limelight and runs with it to provide us with an unnerving villain that seems just as lost and damaged as Pacino’s detective. Hilary Swank also deserves a mention for giving a great supporting role as a female policewoman with brains and hunches to match as she goes along knowing more about hidden things, her studying of Dormer’s past case and her eagerness are brilliantly suited to Swank’s energetic performance.

This is a smart murder mystery that makes me want to watch the 1997 original to see how the brooding dark atmosphere could translate. Throughout this thriller there’s an odd hypnotising seductive look that tries sending you off to sleep but pulls you right back again into the heart of this moody and excellent dream/nightmare.




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