Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Al Pacino, Robin Williams, Hilary Swank, Maura Tierney, Martin Donocan, Nicky Katt, Paul Dooley
Plot: Los Angeles homicide detectives Will Dormer and Hap Eckhart are sent to the small perpetually sunlit town of Nightmute, Alaska to investigate the murder of local teen Kay Connell. Although Dormer and Eckhart are well renowned among the police world, back in LA, they’re facing some serious professional issues. While in Nightmute, Dormer begins to suffer from insomnia, and he accidental shoots his partner, thinking he was the killer. As the investigation continues, Dormer’s insomnia begins to worsen, and is taunted by Kay’s killer.
First Thoughts: Following the financial and critical success of Memento, which I just reviewed last week, Christopher Nolan was given the opportunity to direct a more straight forward crime thriller, as well as a remake of a well regarded but not very well known Scandinavian crime thriller. And here’s the thing, this is widely regarded as Christopher Nolan’s weakest movie. Is it? Well yeah, but here’s how I think about it; Christopher Nolan at his worst is still some directors at their best, similar to Quentin Tarantino. And you know what? I actually think this movie is criminally underrated!
Story: Like I said, this film is a remake of the 1997 Swedish/Norwegian film starring Stellan Skarsgard, and if you’ve seen that film, you can pretty much predict where it’s going, but there are enough different aspects of this remake that keep it from being different from the original. A lot of the film’s best suspense can be attributed to not just the hunt for this killer, but also Dormer accidentally shooting his partner and attempting to cover it up, which makes for some really good moments of tension where you’re thinking if he’s gonna get caught, and that is awesome. If there’s one thing that this movie changed drastically, it’s the ending. I won’t spoil it, but if you’ve seen the 1997 original, don’t expect the ending of this film to be the same as the ending of the original film, but to be honest, I actually like the ending of this movie just a bit more for reasons that I can’t spoil here. I think as far as actual issues with the story, it does take until the halfway point for out protagonist and antagonist to finally meet, but that’s the only real thing I have a problem with.
Technical: Christopher Nolan’s movies generally all look amazing, and Insomnia is no different. The way Nolan and cinematographer Wally Phister capture the Alaskan landscape in this film is beautiful (despite the fact that most of the film was shot in British Columbia), and it’s also very well edited. There’s a couple of moments when some images flash on screen for a split-second because of Dormer’s insomnia, and it’s all done very well. I will say though, there’s a scene at the end that is very shaky and somewhat choppily edited, but I guess that can be attributed to Dormer’s insomnia so everything is very choppy for him as well.
Performances: All of the performances in Insomnia are top-notch, which I guess should be expected in a Christopher Nolan movie as well. Al Pacino gives one of the most underrated performances of his career, and a lot of what makes his character so compelling is how conflicted he is. Not only can he not sleep, due to the perpetual sunlight, and he also accidentally shoots his partner, but he’s also haunted by something that happened before the events of the movie, which I will not spoil, since I completely forgot about it before I re-watched it recently. Robin Williams though steals the show in almost every scene he has. And it’s truly saddening that he passed away because his performance in this is also one of his most underrated, especially because he is so damn creepy and methodical in this movie, and you learn a lot about his connection with the girl he kills. Hillary Swank is also great in the film as a cop who is helping Pacino with his investigation, and you get the sense that she really admires him, but when she begins to peel back the layers, she begins to wonder if he’s really the righteous cop she thought he was.
Final Thoughts: So yeah, like I said, I think Insomnia is a really underappreciated movie. Sure, it’s the weakest link of Nolan’s filmography, but that’s a pretty strong filmography that doesn’t have any bad movies. All and all, the film has very strong direction, fantastic performances, an intriguing murder mystery and actually does improve upon the Scandinavian original, which even though I like, I find Nolan’s version of the film much better made. Also, if you go into this movie expecting anything to the quality of Inception or The Dark Knight, just don’t. This movie’s nothing like those ones and if you can accept it for what it is, a really great crime thriller with great performances, you’re gonna enjoy it.
- Strong direction
- Excellent performances, especially Robin Williams
- Improves upon certain things in the original
- Intriguing mystery
- One scene with shakycam/choppy editing
- Takes a while for protagonist and antagonist to meet in person
Overall Grade: 9/10