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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Movie Review: INSOMNIA


"A good cop can't sleep because he's missing a piece of the puzzle, and a bad cop can't sleep because his conscience won't let him."
-- Ellie Burr

Insomnia is a 2002 crime thriller directed by Christopher Nolan that centers around a murder investigation in a small town in Alaska. When the body of a seventeen-year-old girl is found, local authorities call for help from Los Angeles homicide detective Will Dormer (Al Pacino) and his partner Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan) to aid in the investigation. With the help of Detective Ellie Burr (Hilary Swank), the trio starts to piece the puzzle together and soon finds a potential suspect. When they raid the man's cabin, however, Dormer gets lost in the fog and winds up shooting and killing his partner. Because no one else sees exactly what happens, Dormer blames the wanted suspect on the killing rather than taking the heat for the situation. His conscience starts to eat away at him, and he manages to be unable to sleep for his entire stay in Alaska, all while trying to solve the girl's murder. He finds the suspect, a local writer named Walter Finch (Robin Williams), but Finch blackmails Dormer by telling him that he saw what really happened with Dormer's partner. The two create a strange alliance that Dormer hopes will be mutually beneficial, but things continue to spiral out of control as Dormer continues to lose out on sleep.

Of Nolan's seven directorial efforts, Insomnia had been the only film I had yet to see. It had been staring at me from NetFlix's Instant Watch for months, but I finally had the time and the opportunity to sit down and give it a watch. I had always heard good things about the film, but it never really jumped out towards me as a must-see flick despite being directed by one of my favorite directors. Still, I figured I'd give it a shot at some point, and now seemed like just as good a time as any.

One of the first things you're going to notice is that it doesn't necessarily feel like a Nolan film. Of all of his directorial efforts, Insomnia is the only one that Nolan didn't write himself, so that probably explains the different type of feel. In a way, that hurts the film a little bit, but not by much. We're given a rather good screenplay, even if it's a little bit predictable. It's an interesting look at how insomnia can affect an individual's life. The only other film I remember seeing that portrayed an insomniac's lifestyle so effectively was the 2004 Christian Bale vehicle, The Machinist. Still, I just couldn't fall into this screenplay all that much because I could see exactly where it was going. That's not something you can say about Nolan-written scripts.

The acting is pretty solid in this one. Pacino is good as our lead, and even though I'm not the biggest Pacino fan, I thought he successfully drew in his normal, over-the-top personality and brought a quieter and more brooding performance for Insomnia. Sure, he delves into his typical over-the-top yelling persona a couple times, but old habits die hard, right? I thought Williams did a great job as the film's main antagonist. It's always fun to see an actor or actress try out a character different from anything they've done before, and I think that can be said about Williams' role in Insomnia. He brings an effective level of creepy to the screen that translates very well. Swank also does well in her supporting role, but I thought her character was a little under-utilized. There was definitely more opportunity to showcase her, but the filmmakers chose not to take it.

At the end of the day, Insomnia is a good film for Nolan's filmography, but it doesn't really hold a candle to his other work. Still, it's a decent flick that's head-and-shoulders above a lot of the other stuff being churned out by Hollywood nowadays, so I can't completely bash it. If you've got nothing else going on, give this one a view. Perhaps you'll enjoy it a little more than I did.

Movie Review SummaryGrade: B
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Addition to Awards
2002: Nominee - Best Supporting Actress, Drama

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