Insomnia, Christopher Nolan’s smashing follow-up to his cult hitMemento, is the best Hollywood film of 2002 so far. A remake of a1997 Norwegian thriller of the same name, Insomnia is handsomelyproduced, expertly written, acted and directed, making for one hell of anatmospheric thriller.
Insomnia is the story of Will Dormer (Al Pacino), a veteran LAPDdetective who travels to a small Alaskan town with his partner Hap Eckhart(Martin Donovan) to investigate the disturbing murder of a seventeenyear-old girl. Under the glare of the region’s perpetual daylight, Dormerand Eckhart close in on the primary suspect, reclusive detective novelistWalter Finch (Robin Williams). During a tense stakeout on a rocky,fog-shrouded beach, Finch slips into the mist and out of Dormer’s grasp. Ashe makes his escape, shots ring out…and Hap is killed.
As he struggles to cope with his sense of responsibility and remorse overhis partner’s death, the brilliantly malevolent Finch forces Dormer into apsychological game of cat-and-mouse. The stakes escalate as Dormer contendswith an unproven but perceptive local cop (Hilary Swank) and becomesincreasingly entangled in Finch’s web of manipulation. Unable to findrespite from the relentless midnight sun or his own distorted judgment, thedangerously sleep-deprived detective finds his stability gravelythreatened.
With Insomnia, Christopher Nolan shows us that he wasn’t aone-trick pony with Memento. As with that film, Nolan, here workingfrom newcomer Hilary Seitz’s screenplay, takes us into the mind of thefilm’s protagonist so we can share both his physical and mentalexperiences. He also does a great job in meticulously creating a tense, richatmosphere (perfectly captured by cinematographer Wally Pfister andaccompanied by David Julyan’s haunting music score) that is hard to easilyshake off once the film is over. Alfred Hitchcock would be proud.
Seitz’s script is a beautifully complex, carefully mounted study ofmorality, full of the complex characters, rich interactions and verbalexchanges that seem no longer to exist in American cinema. Seitz’sscreenplay provides the type of smart thrills that no dim-witted Hollywoodcar chase or gun battle could ever dream of evoking. Academy members, takenote of this name for next year: Hilary Seitz.
Al Pacino, no stranger to playing law officials with dark sides, turns inone of his best performances to date in this film. He does a perfect job inconveying Dormer’s mental and physical unraveling under the endlessdaylight. This type of instability could have been a platform for Pacino’sover-the-top scene chewing that he’s displayed in such films as Heatand Scent Of A Woman. Thankfully, he takes the low-key, internalapproach that makes Will Dormer a truly fascinating character.
Robin Williams matches Pacino’s performance in terms of subtlety andgreatness despite only being in the film for the second half. Like Pacino,Williams eschews the cinematic grandstanding and instead gives us anindividual that slyly alternates between being humane and being a monster.Walter Finch is a character that sends shivers down our spine with a mereglance. I’ve always been a fan of Williams’ dramatic roles more than hiscomedic ones and this is a performance worthy of comparison to The WorldAccording To Garp and Good Will Hunting.
Hilary Swank, receiving top billing alongside Pacino and Williams, does afine job holding her own as the cop who is a lot smarter than she looks. Insmaller roles, Martin Donovan, Nicky Katt (as a local cop) and JonathanJackson (as the abusive boyfriend of the murder victim) also all turn insolid performances.
Insomnia is not the type of film you would normally see releasedduring the summer movie season. There is no pop music soundtrack to sell, noproduct endorsements to brainwash us with nor are there any action figuresto purchase at the local toy store. All the film has is itself. SinceInsomnia is one the best thrillers to come out of Hollywood sinceThe Silence Of The Lambs, that should be more than enough to ensureits success.