Ben Peek (benpeek) wrote,
Ben Peek


Insomnia is Christopher Nolan's second mainstream feature, made after the quite good Memento, but before the much loved Batman Begins.

I didn't think much of Batman Begins. You can read the post, but the short of it was that it bored me, and while the film was well made on a number of levels (though the fight scenes were dull) I wondered why Nolan was wasting his time making this film. The world didn't--and doesn't--need anymore Batman films. It's quite possible that it doesn't need any more Batman comics or cartoons, and based off the latest Batman comic I read written by Frank Miller and illustrated by Jim Lee, I think I'd have more than a strong case from which to argue the sheer stupidity of bothering to write anything about the character, since everything has been said and done. But that's a different post altogether.

Insomnia is a remake of a German Norwegian film by the same title but which I've not seen, and thus can't compare. I assume there have been a few changes made, most notably to the setting, which sees detectives Dormer and Eckhart (Pacino and Donovan) arriving in an Alaskan town to investigate the murder of a teenage girl. It is apparent from the start that the two are overkill for the murder and that they have really been sent away to gain distance from an investigation that is taking place into corrupt cops in L.A.. Pacino's Dormer is a much decorated detective with a fine reputation, but has a secrets relating to one specific case where he faked evidence, all of which will come out if his partner, Eckhart, turns to become evidence. From the opening the problem for the characters in the film is not the murdered girl, whose killer Dormer has no problem drawing out, but the relationship between the two detectives and Dormer's reputation and job.

The complication comes when Dormer accidently kills Eckhart, mistaking him for the killer in a misty, rocky ravine when he has given chase after drawing the murderer out. It's an honest mistake: already one officer has already been shot because Dormer called out to the killer by accident, thinking he was another officer. However, Eckhart, moments before his death, believes that Dormer has shot him on purpose due to his plan to cop a plea and make a deal by turning in evidence (it's never quite said what Eckhart has done that makes him want to do this, I might add). Dormer, instead of admitting the mistake, tells the Alaskan cops that the murderer shot him, and then begins an elaborate road of deception to ensure he isn't found out, all the while being unable to sleep through his guilt.

That's when the murderer, played by Robin Williams, begins calling. Turns out he saw the whole thing.

It's a pretty good premise, actually, and for the most part, Nolan handles the build up well. He could have given more time to Donovan's character who, outside his desire to turn evidence, is portrayed as pretty Dormer's shadow. There's no sense of him as his own man, so it's hard to imagine him actually turning on Dormer, and hard to imagine that he would have skeletons in his closet. But otherwise, the film, given lush scenery by cinematography by Wally Pfister is given a languid, timeless feel that can lull one into believing that nothing is moving in Alaska. Certainly this is what Nolan would like to have in the film as Dormer's insomnia grows, but the problem, and the main problem of the entire film, is that Nolan himself is unable to shake that tone from when the film needs to be something else.

For example: there is nothing remotely sinister in the meeting between Dormer and William's Walter Finch on a ferry, where they hatch their plan to put the blame of the girl's murder on her boyfriend. There should be something other than that thin tonal languid haze to the film that convey's Pacino's mental exhaustion, something that conveys his desperation, something than can convey the opportunistic menace of Williams. Instead, the lull continues, the imagery beautiful, the pace languid, a sleepwalker acting. This becomes more of a problem by the end of the film where Dormer, now six days without sleep, is truly fried. It especially needs to be different when the climax between Finch, Dormer, and the Alaskan detective, Ellie Burr, played by Hillary Swank, begins.

Outside questions of tone and pace, however, Insomnia is a solid film and I liked it. Pacino isn't chewing on the scenery as he can often do, but portrays the weariness and confusion of his character is a nicely understated way. Williams isn't very convincing as a murderer, but I've never found him convincing in any role, to be truthful, and I think I just have a block when I see him. I think, "Shit, it's Robin Williams. Go away." So that's probably my own issue, rather than anyone else's. Swank does fine as a wide eyed, big toothed detective, though it's just a different kind of wide eyed innocence that she plays in every other film I've seen here in. But, you know, I enjoyed it. I liked the complication and set up and, for the most part, enjoyed how the film played out. I might track down the original to see what I think after it, because in the back of my mind, I've been trying to figure out if Nolan is simply a director who can make a good film but has no originality and therefor simply updates or redresses other films such as with Batman Begins, or if he is actually capable of being interesting, such as with Memento (anyone seen his first film, Following?). Since his next film is slated to an adaptation of the the Exec, rumoured to be a comic, I'm not holding my breath for anything interesting.

Insomnia is the second film in a buy two get one free deal from a couple of weeks ago. I am reviewing each of the dvds to decide which one will be considered the 'free' film. 25th Hour was the first film.
Tags: review
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