From the director of the excellent Memento comes Insomnia, a tense and provocative thriller about a detective driven over the edge and a man who will do anything to cover up the murder he has committed.
Al Pacino stars as a detective who, while facing an internal investigation in L.A., heads to northern Alaska where the sun never sets to find the killer of a high school girl. He soon comes to grips with what is going on but it is the killer (Robin Williams) that contacts him, and that tells him that he knows his darkest secret, a secret devastating enough where Pacino must figure out an indirect route to bring this psychotic to justice.
The stunning script is brought to life by great acting, in the form of an all-star cast who were all too happy to join forces with director Christopher Nolan. Nolan gave Memento star Guy Pearce new life, and he does the same for Williams, who delivers a gut-wrenching performance. He tried to be a psychotic in Death to Smoochy, but that failed both in the box office and with critics. Here, however, Williams does the opposite, proving once and for all that he really is a versatile actor who can do things other than just comedy. As for Pacino, just add Insomnia to his list of great performances. Pacino is sharp and believable, and most other actors would not have been able to pull a movie like this off. As his character goes day after day with no sleep, we are drawn into his world, both through Nolan's directorial style, but more importantly through Pacino himself. The visuals of the film are important to show what is going on in Pacino's mind, but it is Pacino that makes this stuff convincing.
Nevertheless, Nolan's form of art cannot be overlooked. Insomnia is a little more traditional than his backwards-chronological snippets in Memento, but his visual flare still exists. Especially later in the film, when Pacino is really starting to feel the effects of lack of sleep, does Nolan's skill come into focus, as Pacino begins to see more and more visions of things that are not there, has flashbacks, and so forth.
The movie on a whole is pretty good, but not absolutely terrific. The acting and direction help things a lot, but as I watched Insomnia there was still a nagging feeling that something was missing. More than anything it is a matter of expectations; Insomnia is a lot more character-based than I was expecting, and wanted, from the movie. The characters are deep and that is good, but there are a few sections of the movie where things slow down almost to a stop. There are other scenes, like the shootout in the fog, that are as tense as any of the best thrillers, but Nolan is a little inconsistent in this regard. I would have liked a little more action, or at least a few more twists, than what is actually in Insomnia, but then again there is a certain level of suspense right off the bat as the audience begins to wonder just how the movie is going to end. It really isn't clear up until the final scene.
Insomnia is a well-made movie with some of the best acting seen this year. Pacino, Williams, and Swank all deliver what we've come to expect of them. The movie is more character-based than anything else, but it still makes for a good, mature watch.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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