Memento was one of the most original and surreal films of recent years and the director Christopher Nolan is back with Insomnia. However, Insomnia is a remake of a Norwegian film with the same title made in 1998 by Erik Skjoldbjaerg (that's his actual name and not me just typing keys in random!). Before you all switch off thinking this is another Hollywood Remake Machine™ production (all gloss and no substance) STAY THY HAND!! It actually plays very well and most people will not recognise it as a remake (probably because they will not have seen or heard of the original).
A note before the review - this review contains some spoilers. However anything that is revealed below is contained in the films' trailer. The trailer, in my humble opinion, is far too revealing, but as a result leaves the spoilers below necessary. If you wish to go into this film completely naive, please skip till spoiler ends.
Al Pacino is William Dormer, a Los Angeles detective who is highly decorated and respected. He and his partner, Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan), are both sent to Nightmute, a tiny halibut fishing town in Alaska to investigate the murder of a teenage girl. The real reason that these two high-profile detectives are sent to such a low-profile case is that they are pending an investigation by Internal Affairs back in LA. A case that Eckhart maybe prepared to tell the investigators what they want to know -information that might bring down the prestigious career of Dormer. This is not to say that the detectives are corrupt, but the methods that Dormer used to secure a conviction in a particular case were questionable.
Arriving into Nightmute, the two detectives are met by Ellie Burr (Hilary Swank) a fresh new police officer. The Nightmute police are used to dealing with drunken youngsters or domestic quarrels, not murders and are a little star struck by the big city detectives - most of all Ellie, who has read and studied all the published case reports by Dormer. She is eager to impress and is assigned as the detectives 'guide' around town.
Nightmute has no nightfall, as it's so high in the northern hemisphere and with continual daylight for six months, the LA detectives struggle with the lack of night. Investigations into the teenager's background reveal facts about her and the company she kept. This leads the two detectives to various suspects, primarily her boyfriend and a mysterious admirer. It's this admirer who sparks the most interest and the police stake out his cabin.
However, things do not go as planned. When the suspect arrives back to his cabin, he is tipped off by the inexperience of the Nightmute police and runs. Dormer pursues him and in dense fog takes a shot at the shadowy figure. To his horror he discovers that he has shot and killed his partner Eckhart. Unfortunately he covers the killing up and claims that the suspect did it. However, there was one witness to the killing and unfortunately that was the suspect.
The suspect turns out to be Walter Finch (Robin Williams) who releases the bargaining chip that he has and decides to play it against the weary detective who's being to suffer due to the lack of sleep perpetuated by the endless sunlight in Nightmute.
It's surprising that the film relies so heavy on performances and direction and as a result has very little action. The constant watching of Dormer trying to sleep in a room with sun pouring in through the blinds is great as you can see his conscience gnawing at him. His ethics are pitted against a killer who believes that they are the same and as a result share a bond more important than what they might have done. Performances are excellent, as you'd expect from such talented actors.
Pacino is excellent as Dormer, his jaw slack and his eyes drooping with fatigue. Hallucinations and voices add to his state of crisis, which are a stark contrast to his vigour when he first arrives. Robin Williams is different, with his soft voice, smooth face and educated manners. Williams shows something that a lot of people have forgotten (and not his knob - this is not The Fisher King), that he is a very talented dramatic actor. The rest of the cast are good, with Hilary Swank topping them as the young detective who suspects that Dormer isn't 100% kosher with the facts.
Christopher Nolan has followed up the excellent Memento with another film that relies on keeping a taut plot interesting with the aid of some brilliant performances. At least this one wasn't shown backwards. I'm off for some shut eye.....
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