Stars: Al Pacino, Robin Williams, Hilary Swank, Maura Tierney, Martin Donovan, Nicky Katt
Director: Christopher Nolan
Writer: Hillary Seitz, based on the 1997 screenplay Insomnia by Erik Skjoldbjaerg
There is a beauty to this dark film that is credited, not only to the stunning Alaskan landscape, but to the artfully restrained and intelligent performances of stars Al Pacino and Robin Williams. The intuitive direction by Christopher Nolan, who last year made the extraordinary backward tale Memento, serves up a smart, moody psychological drama.
Veteran homicide detective, Will Dormer (Pacino), and his Los Angeles Police Department partner, Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan), have been called to tiny Nightmute, Alaska to help investigate the murder of a local teenage girl. But, they’re there primarily as a reprieve to an Internal Affairs investigation back home where the men are suspected in a case involving planted evidence. Will’s the type of hard working and hard boiled, world-weary detective who believes you do whatever it takes to get the scum off the street. It’s the kind of attitude that could get a good cop in trouble. Hap’s sick of the whole mess and reveals to Will in a beautifully played scene that he’s about to cut a deal which will then implicate Will in wrongdoing. This sets the stage for deep tension between the men and shadows Will throughout the film.
But it’s not the only thing Will’s up against. In summertime Alaska, the sun never sets. He’s unable to sleep because of the daunting sunlight that insinuates his hotel room. Note the play on Will’s last name, Dormer, from the french “to sleep”. He’s exhausted both mentally and physically. Then there are the late night phone calls from primary suspect Walter Finch (Robin Williams), a writer with incriminating evidence against Will. An idealistic local detective named Ellie Burr (Hilary Swank), who used to study Will’s cases at the academy, tries to discover not only who the killer is but who actually is Will Dormer: honest cop or compromised one. Pacino is outstanding, revealing a complex character in turmoil on multiple levels. Robin Williams is surprising to watch, as he is so completely reined in, it’s hard to believe it’s him. And Hilary Swank does a good job as the eager to please rookie who discovers more than she bargained for.
Lotta says: Insomnia is smart and well-crafted with interesting characters and setting. It’s one failing is a plot point involving Will in a forest chase sequence and the use of his gun. I can’t say more without revealing critical plot information but it’s as if all the filmmakers were as confused as Pacino’s character as to his motives.