Thursday, July 15, 2010

Christopher Nolan's "Insomnia" Offers Good Performances

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 2 (of 2003) by Leroy Douresseaux


Insomnia (2002)
Running time: 118 minutes (1 hour, 58 minutes)
MPAA – R for language, some violence and brief nudity
DIRECTOR: Christopher Nolan
WRITER: Hilary Seitz (based upon the screenplay by Nikolai Frobenius and Erik Skjoldbjaerg)
PRODUCERS: Broderick Johnson, Paul Junger Witt, Andrew A. Kosove, and Edward L. McDonnell
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Wally Pfister (director of photography)
EDITOR: Dody Dorn

CRIME/THRILLER with elements of drama

Starring: Al Pacino, Robin Williams, Martin Donovan, Hilary Swank, Paul Dooley, Nicky Katt, and Maura Tierney

Christopher Nolan, the director of the fantastic Memento, follows his breakthrough masterpiece with Insomnia, a remake of a 1997 Swedish film of the same title. Which is better? One is foreign film, and the other is big budget Hollywood production; although the plot is basically the same, they’re two different films.

Al Pacino is Will Dormer, a famous and an acclaimed homicide investigator with books to his credit. He and his partner Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan) are dispatched to Nightmute, Alaska, a town where the sun doesn’t set during the summer, to investigate the shocking murder of teenage girl. While in pursuit of the killer (Robin Williams), Dormer makes a horrible mistake (which he later learns the killer witnessed) and he compounds his error by covering it up. Suddenly, Dormer engages himself in a terrific juggling act. He has to deal with the killer, a wily fellow. Also, a bright, young detective, Ellie Burr (Hilary Swank, Boys Don’t Cry), is assigned to investigate the crime scene of Dormer’s “error,” and there are stars in her eyes, as she’s a huge fan of his. Further complicating matters, the lead, local detective, Fred Duggar (Nicky Katt) is a young stud who doesn’t like the big city investigator sniffing around his territory.

Pacino is good, and Robin Williams is very good. The film seems to be about the invasion of the societal demands, influence, power, and roles into the personal space of individuals - what they believe and desire to be their roles, needs, and responsibilities. The constant flood of daylight causes Dormer to lose sleep, and the lack of sleep causes his world to blur. Suddenly, his desire to solve the case is in conflict with his checkered past, with his errors in judgment regarding this case, and with his sense of right and wrong and crime and punishment. Williams plays it quiet; his character’s conceit is his wish to control the outer world the way he controls and manipulates the inner worlds of his creativity. There’s a nice test of wills and battle of sanities between Pacino and Williams' characters that could have been lost in the glare of their star power – credit to Nolan for keeping these bright lights in check.

However, I really liked the supporting roles. Donovan’s Hap Eckhart is a nice counterweight to Pacino’s Dormer; Dormer’s high wattage as a famous investigator simply does not faze Eckhart, a by the book, straight laced cop. Donovan correctly plays the character so that Eckhart immediately reveals the cracks in Dormer’s armor, so we know that Dormer’s not so perfect even if that is the public perception of him. Nicky Katt stares Pacino in the eyes and doesn’t blink; his character Duggar keeps Dormer and check so that when Dormer runs amok, he doesn’t completely control the investigation, even if his activities complicates it.

Hilary Swank is all good. Her character Ellie, in a sense, mirrors the victim, except that she survives her mentor and might become a better policeman for it. Perhaps, she won’t be as famous, but her quality and honesty will likely surpass his. She’s the quiet wild card in this movie, and really, she’s the axis. In a world of shifting realities, half-truths, lies, and masks, she strips away the facades to reveal the bare bone facts.

While not great, Insomnia is better than a lot of hackneyed thrillers. Nolan continues to prove that he is already a great director on the strength of just a few films, and the photography by Wally Pfister (Nolan’s partner in crime on Memento), from the opening panorama to the claustrophobic interiors, is gorgeous and perfectly sets the tone. Besides Nolan’s work, this film is certainly worth seeing for its performances, which include one of Robin Williams’s less manic, but still good, performances.

6 of 10
B


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