Director Christopher Nolan follows up his critically acclaimed Memento with Insomnia, a remake of Erik Skjoldbjærg’s 1997 thriller of the same name. The original told the story of a hardboiled police officer (Stellan Skarsgård) trying to track down a killer in Norway’s foggy capital city. Nolan’s facsimile transports Skjoldbjærg’s crime procedural to a sleepy Alaskan town, where LAPD detective Will Dormer (Al Pacino) has been sent to investigate the brutal murder of a 17-year-old girl. Dormer kills his partner, Hap (Martin Donovan), during a stakeout on a fog-shrouded beach, giving reclusive novelist/murderer Walter Finch (Robin Williams) a possible get-out-of-jail card. There’s no real potent relationship between man and nature here to merit all the cutaways to wintry Alaskan vistas yet Nolan knows a good ice field when he sees one. Dormer’s eerie descent into the film’s Alaskan burb feels like the start of a very eerie episode of “Fantasy Island” and while Pacino plays tired well, Nolan himself seems less concerned with the detective’s insomnia than he is with turning Skjoldbjærg’s perfectly routine existential tale into a perfectly routine cat-and-mouse endgame. In the film’s soon-to-be legendary set piece, Dormer chases Finch (Williams seemingly engages Big Foot from afar) across piles of logs slipping and sliding their way to the sawmill. Williams is about as impossible to watch playing it low key as he is doing Patch Adams, which means Skjoldbjærg’s “everyman”-cum-tortured-accidental-killer has become a sex pervert with too many trump cards up his sleeve. Despite Dormer’s gratuitous flashbacks and hallucinations (which Finch manages to inexplicably reference in one scenario), Nolan’s atmospheric images begin to increasingly engage lack of sleep. The tense, piercingly lit exteriors are sharply contrasted with the dark interiors of rooms and the dank corridors beneath cabins. One fabulous shot of darkening waters is suggestive of an impending nap yet Nolan makes a tragic mistake by taking the film’s title entirely too literally.
- Christopher Nolan
- Hillary Seitz
- Al Pacino, Robin Williams, Hilary Swank, Maura Tierney, Martin Donovan, Nicky Katt, Paul Dooley, Jonathan Jackson, Larry Holden, Katherine Isabelle
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