147 of 175 people found the following review helpful
on May 4, 2002
Insomnia, director Chris Nolan's second full length feature, doesn't have the same gut-wrenching and mind-bending plot twists that his feature length debut, Memento, had, but does an excellent job telling an original and gripping detective mystery.
The pleasure of Insomnia is to be found in its rich cinematography, beautiful landscapes, and excellent performances. The movie is one of the most visually compelling pieces of filmmaking I have seen in years, creating surreal juxtapositions with the vast, harsh Alaskan landscape and with close-up shots of crime scene evidence. The amazing visual landscapes (both large and small) are used effectively by director Nolan to emphasize the films themes of isolation and overpowerment, of losing oneself within ones environment and in ones choices.
Insomnia's plot will disappoint those looking for a new Memento, in that it does not have the sort of turns of action and motivation that Memento does. Insomnia works well without elaborate plot twists, however, it's mood benefits from a certain lack of ambiguity of action, although the ending is perhaps a little to predictable and cliched. Insomnia would have benefited, however, from more ambiguity of motivation - while the acting is top notch, especially on the part of Robin Williams, the connections between the characters actions and their motivations and decisions is too closely drawn by the script.
Overall Insomnia is an excellent movie, and a good entry into the detective/suspense movie cannon. It suffers slightly from a couple of bad edits (in a movie filled with amazing editing and shooting) and from its desire to clearly spell out the principle characters motivations, but these minor flaws are more than redeemed by the director's excellent camerawork and sense of pacing, a strong script, and very solid acting performances. Insomnia is a must see movie, and a welcome change from the "blockbuster" summer movie scene of 2002.
37 of 42 people found the following review helpful
In "Insomnia," directed by Christopher Nolan, Al Pacino plays Will Dormer, a Los Angeles police detective. While a controversy swirls around him and his partner, Dormer travels to a small town in Alaska to help with a murder investigation. This assignment leads him into a tension-filled cat-and-mouse game with creepy mystery writer Walter Finch (played by Robin Williams). As an added twist, the story takes place during the Alaskan summer, when there is endless daylight; amidst this inescapable light, Dormer suffers from the malady of the film's title.
"Insomnia" is a gripping, stylishly made film. The gritty action sequences have a low-tech realism that is a welcome change from the typically overdone Hollywood action thing. The performances are outstanding. Williams gets a lot of mileage out of his effectively low-key interpretation of Finch. Veteran character actor Paul Dooley brings warmth and subtle authority to his role as a small town cop, and Hilary Swank is a superb foil for Pacino in her role as an eager young cop. Pacino is excellent as the film's flawed protagonist. His performance is truly harrowing.
"Insomnia" succeeds as a suspense drama. The motif of endless daylight is well used throughout the film, and is weighted with potential symbolic meaning. More than just a good thriller, "Insomnia" also raises some relevant moral and ethical issues.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Director Christopher Nolan hit artistic and cinematic paydirt with his underappreciated, "Memento". This latest effort is different in style and story, but repeats all the same mysterious character flaws in a landscape that's as beautiful as it is foreboding.
Pacino, Williams and Swank all deliver spectacular performances and Pacino is incredible as the "respected" high ranking detective who has terrible secrets only to accidentally get in deeper. His consience keeps him 'awake' and his craggy face and tired eyesacks show it. Williams is just as creepy and frighteningly clever in his role, never reminding you that he is also a comedian. Swank plays the young, awe-struck cop with ease, who also faces a problem of conscience as she gets to know her mentor, Pacino. This secrecy and disallusionment seems to be the motif Nolan sets into the characters.
The scenery is spectacular, but also, as shown in several scenes, not to be trusted - just like the main characters.
It's a tension filled, medium action film that will keep you mesmerized until the end. It doesn't matter if the ending is slightly predictable, it's the ride that matters.
DVD includes all the typical Director's commentary (very interesting), making of documentary, theater trailers, etc. Best of all is a sequence into the life of an 'insomniac'. It gives the story all that more credibility.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on January 22, 2003
Having seen the 1997 Norwegian film of the same name, I was eager to see how the American-ized version of "Insomnia" would play out. Without delving too far into the comparisons that have been thoroughly detailed in prior reviews, I will say that this is one of the finer examples of how to film a remake.
This version of "Insomnia" takes place in a remote Alaskan port city, and revolves around the murder of a young girl. However, as the movie unfolds, the murder slowly becomes only a small piece of a much more expansive, provoking, intense character drama.
From a cinematographical perspective, the haunting beauty of Alaska is captured perfectly. In a way unique when compared to other films, the landscape is intertwined with the plot, further exposing the loneliness and isolation, while paradoxically highlighting its stark contrast with murder, death, and psychological demons. The sequence of the hunt/shooting amidst a thick, impenetrable fog is riveting and conveys a high level of tension, as the viewer shares in the disorientation the fog creates.
"Insomnia" is driven by characters and acting, and a strong cast is assembled. Al Pacino - as expected - is wonderful in his portrayal of the world-weary city cop who escapes an Internal Affairs investigation by coming to investigate this murder. In many ways, we have seen Mr. Pacino in this role on numerous occasion, and he demonstrates this with the comfortable ease in which he carries his role. However, as his sleep-deprivation - caused by the long hours of daylight - intensifies, Mr. Pacino takes his character to a remarkable next level, as he battles to cover his questionable investigative practices and battle the psychological demons tied to similar practices in cases being investigated by Internal Affairs back in Los Angeles. As a viewer, you can empathize with his character, while at the same time watch in amazement as he struggles to keep himself from completely unraveling.
Robin Williams is equally strong as the author-turned-murderer. Like Mr. Pacino, we have seen Mr. Williams in roles similar to this, and yet he is so good at pulling it off that you couldn't see any other person carrying such a role. His quiet, brooding character is psychologically scary; one senses that a violent, psychotic rage is bubbling just beneath his placid exterior. Also, Mr. Williams uses his comedic facial reactions to maximize the creepiness of his character. A couple of times he flashes a muted smile that subtly conveys the twisted pleasure he has in his cat-and-mouse game with Mr. Pacino's character. He is subdued, but brilliant, in this role.
Hilary Swank also shines as the young, impressionable cop who ultimately uncovers Mr. Pacino's attempts to cover up the accidental shooting of his partner. She wonderfully evolves from one overcome with "hero-worship" in working with Mr. Pacino's character to one disheartened and mildly angry when she finds that her "idol" isn't who he is cracked up to be. Ms. Swank more than adequately holds her own in sharing the screen with Mr. Pacino and Mr. Williams, which is no small feat.
The climatic ending to the film is perhaps slightly cliched in its quick tying up of loose storylines, but it plays well here. In its progression, you weren't quite sure how things were going to be resolved after the teenage suspect is arrested (falsely) for murder. One would almost have the sense that the movie could have ended with several loose ends hanging, allowing the viewer to ponder the outcome. But, there was instead the dramatic shootout, which ultimately was a satisfying resolution and conclusion to the film.
All told, "Insomnia" was a very solid, quiet, tense drama that is worth the time to see. I give it a four-star rating, and recommend it to anyone seeking a good character-driven movie that is free of overwhelming special effects and action sequences. People seeking a fast-paced drama might want to steer clear, as they might find the pacing of this film to be too slow for their tastes.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on May 24, 2002
While it's difficult to not compare this remake to the original Insomnia (with Stellan Starsgard), this version stands alone and isn't dependent on the viewer having seen the original.
Pacino gives a fantastic portrayal of an on-the-edge, burnt out detective. In addition to this character portrayal, the detective can't sleep because of the white nights. We see Pacino lose lucidity and eventually see hallucinations because of his sleep deprivation. In another, less experienced actor, this would be heavy handed and distracting. However, Pacino portrays this smoothly and convincingly. Your eyes will be droopy by the end of this film.
Williams' portrayal of the 'bad guy' is also extremely well done. Several people I know express hesitation about seeing this movie because they're wary that Williams will deliver a ham-handed character. This is not the case. Like Pacino, Williams also creates a wonderful, understated and compelling character.
Swank also does well. Her performance is slightly reminiscent of the role of the Frances McDormand in Fargo. Swank gives a solid performance and reveals the many conflicting emotions and layers of character of the sole woman on the small-town Alaska police force. Through a perky facade, Swank reveals her character's extreme intelligence and power of observation.
And yes, those expecting a similar film to Memento will not find that in Insomnia. Nolan has made another unique film and is carefully avoiding falling into the trap of filming the same story multiple times (like Guy Ritchie).
With the award winning trio of actors, Nolan creates a film that isn't dominated by any one performance and is a solid and compelling film. Recommended.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
This is a quite diverting albeit not totally successful turn into film noire for both Robin Williams and Al Pacino, and the scenes between them are sometime electric with the kind of charisma such notable actors and stars often deliver. The script, too, is uneven, given the fascinating premise of a highly regarded but somewhat unconventional big-city detective and a somewhat disreputable character at that, (played well by Pacino) brought into the backwaters of remote Alaska to help solve a grisly and unsettling murder of a young and attractively seductive co-ed. From the outset, Pacino's character is wracked with insomnia which seems to be a result of both his own haunted past and the strange environment he now finds himself surrounded by.
Very early on, the detective and his partner discover someone suspicious revisiting the crime scene, and in pursuit Pacino makes a fateful mistake that dials up the tension level and sets the stage for the insidious cat and mouse game that ensues between the pursued killer (Williams, in an over-the top performance that provides a pulse-raising coda to the progression of events) on the one hand, and the haunted and increasingly confused and bewildered Pacino, on the other. What results from this deadly conflict is a nightmare on steroids, a film noire shot in stark and bold Technicolor shades and hues.
The supporting cast, including Hilary Swank doing a nice turn as an overly earnest young Alaskan policewoman, veteran Paul Dooley, and relative new-comer Martin Donovan, all help to promote the suffocating sense of a claustrophobic whirl of events gone tragically out of control. Not for the squeamish, I fear, but great entertainment for someone willing to see Pacino in yet another portrayal of a cop over the edge, and the surprisingly deadly Robin Williams as a most worthy opponent for the cop's relentless efforts to pursue him. Enjoy
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on August 23, 2007
Christopher Nolan's follow-up to his innovative breakthrough hit Memento didn't attract a third of the attention or acclaim of the previous film, despite the presence of three Oscar-winners in lead roles. I feel that Insomnia was unjustly ignored at the box office and even at the Academy Awards. In my opinion, it was one of the best American films of 2002. I had high expectations for Insomnia, considering that Christopher Nolan was directing that Al Pacino and Robin Williams were starring. Happily, my expectations were exceeded. Insomnia is one of the downright best mystery-thrillers in a long time.
I hear many people complain that it's a slow-moving film. Well, this is basically true. It's not concerned with exciting action sequences, shoot-outs or over-the-top acting. It's concerned with the emotions of its characters. It's a psychological drama that puts us inside the head of its lead character, Det. Will Dormer (Al Pacino). In a way, it's sort of a head trip similar to Memento. Memento was a very subjective film that put us in the head of its memory-loss-stricken protagonist. In Insomnia, Pacino's character deals not with memory loss, but with mental instability resulting from sleep deprivation. That's what makes the film fascinating. How the audience gets to experience what's going through Dormer's frazzled mind. He is drawn into a cat and mouse game with the killer he is pursuing, but due to his state of mind, things become very difficult.
Based on a 1997 Norwegian film, Insomnia is a rare remake that manages to be more effective than the original. I should go back and watch the original again, but I found Nolan's film to surpass the original by far. Credit should, however, go to Erik Skjoldbjærg, director and co-writer of the original film. This film would not exist without the wonderful story written by Nikolaj Frobenius and Erik Skjoldbjærg. It's a tense, psychological story of a detective trying to solve a murder case, but plagued by ever-present sunlight resulting in the titular state, insomnia.
Hillary Seitz's wonderful screenplay is based on that story and director Christopher Nolan weaves it into a stunning and complex mystery. Al Pacino gives one of his most memorable performances of recent years with his subtle take on the beleaguered detective. How Pacino manages to look so deathly exhausted, I don't know. Robin Williams also gives another great dramatic performance. I hoped that Insomnia would receive a few Academy Award nominations, such as Best Director for Nolan, Best Screenplay, Best Actor for Pacino, but the film was snubbed. It was a distant memory by the time Oscar season came around.
Do not make the same mistake as the Academy. Do not overlook this wonderful thriller. Insomnia will make you believe that Christopher Nolan is one of the most talented young directors working in the industry today. Also be sure to catch his first two films, Following (1998) and Memento (2001). Of course, Nolan has since gone on to make the best Batman movie ever (2005's Batman Begins) and the excellent 2006 thriller The Prestige. Anything with Christopher Nolan's name on it is excellent. He is simply one of the finest directors working today. I eagerly await his next project: the Batman Begins sequel, The Dark Knight.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on January 8, 2003
Christopher Nolan is a talented director, no doubt. His previous film "Memento" is proof of that. This film is proof as well, although it clearly shows the hallmarks of a Hollywood production: it proceeds cautiously and with great skill, but it feels like chartered territory: the villian (played with aplomb by Robin Williams) has to explain his motivations, thereby robbing the film of a little mystery, and the films ends in a way that is too rudimentary, too conventional for a film of this caliber. Ultimately, these flaws (and a few others) make "Insomnia" less satisfying than it could be. The fault is not necessarily Mr. Nolan's; it could very well lie with the screenwriter or, what is more likely, with the producers and the distributor. When "foreign" filmmakers come to Hollywood (Nolan is British), they are often "forced" to make more conventional films.
But even with its conventional elements, "Insomnia" is about as skillful in its execution as a film can be. It's tense and captivating, and the performances all around are praiseworthy. Pacino gives all the hot-blooded gusto we normally associate with him, but it's toned down successfully, which helps to strengthen the heaviness and lingering exhaustion that the murder investigation (which is the film's subject) entails. The setting is perfect: Nolan takes the Alaskan climate and washes it beautifully with gray, blue, white, and green hues, with a never-ending, penetrating, suffusing light that renders Pacino an insomniac and that gives weight to the film's central themes. It's highly intelligent without being emotionally empty. Nolan understands nuance, and he has an uncanny ability to make the best out of his material.
I cannot rate this film too highly because I felt it ultimately underwhelms with its conventions, but, by the same token, I will admit that I was taken aback by the ardor, skill, and technical assurance with which Nolan tells this story. Few films tie the strands together as well as this one does; even fewer match the visual language as precisely to the subject matter. It's an achievement, even if I kept feeling, particularly at the end of the film, that I've seen it before, only because Hollywood is better at repackaging the same elements instead of originating new ones.
On the DVD itself: a good transfer, with a crips image and sound. Particularly appealing is a special feature in which Nolan discusses the film in the sequence in which it was shot -- now there is something original!
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on February 2, 2007
Sleep disorders are not new to murder mysteries, but the way Christopher Nolan represents insomnia visually is at least as wonderful as Al Pacino's patient acting. Pacino plays a detective from L.A., Will Dormer, who is sent to Alaska to help out an old friend with a murder case. Dormer and his partner (played by Martin Donovan) are under investigation by Internal Affairs in L.A., so there's more to this temporary transfer than assisting a fellow badge.
In Alaska, it's light all day and every day when Dormer and his partner arrive, and Dormer has insomnia. Pacino gradually slows his character's actions and reactions down until I felt that he was severely debilitated and in danger. He makes mistakes: some deliberate, others on accident, and still others he isn't sure of. The latter make for the most intriguing part of this well-constructed thriller.
Hillary Swank plays the smart, plucky detective, Ellie Burr, who is stuck serving misdemeanors instead of actual collars. She has studied Dormer's career and admires him. Swank plays the role without overreaching. I cannot say the same for Pacino. Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, and Jack Nicholson all suffer from the same affliction: As great as they are as actors, their personalities are greater. I cannot watch them in films and pretend that they are anyone but themselves. I still enjoy their performances, but they are decidedly bigger than any of the characters they have ever played. They just can't help it.
Maura Tierney gives an excellent but thankless performance as the front desk clerk (or manager) of the hotel where Dormer and his partner stay. She softens Pacino in a way that Swank is unable to do. Or maybe Pacino tempers himself; it's hard to tell.
Robin Williams, as Walter Finch, is quite excellent at being creepy. The banter between Finch and Dormer is something of a throwback to a different time: "You're my job," says Dormer when Finch maneuvers for sympathy. They seem to know each other as if from across the room, not like lovers, but like familiar character types in a familiar story.
And Nolan isn't trying to do anything entirely new in Insomnia. He's telling you a story you already know. He twists it slightly with great visual effects and a cold, blue camera lens. As much as I enjoy the film, it's not perfect. The screenplay is written into a corner, and the ending is easy to see a mile away. Likewise, some of the dialogue between Dormer and Finch is heavy-handed and cheesy.
At its heart, this is the story of a downfall. Don't judge the film by its murder/mystery/suspense genre tag. Character takes precedence over plot. It's not as good as Nolan's Memento, but Nolan's craft leaves its marks.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on May 29, 2002
I glanced at some other reviews here before inscribing my own (which can sometimes be an unhealthy procedure), and noticed a motif that seems to underline most independent reviewers criticism. They either find the film to far from "Memento," or to close to "Memento," which is beyond explanation on my part. The fact is, Christopher Nolan does an outstanding job with this film, and nothing more nor nothing less should have been done in the creation and editing of this film. The truth is, this movie isn't much like "Memento," but more like "Insomnia."
A reviewer here posted that most of the shots are over-stylized, exaggerated, and uncomfortable to watch. Well, I would suppose that the psychological state of insomnia might exactly reflect those very three states.... but on to the movie.
Robin Williams and Al Pacino definitely did a great job with this movie, with Al Pacino definitely taking the more impressive role. You really get the feeling that there was a "trinity" between Nolan, Pacino, and Williams going on, much like the "trinity" which took place in "Taxi Driver."
I never saw the original "Insomnia," so I am not going to draw comparisons, all I know is that this movie stands by itself as a fantastically dark, thought-provoking film. I will watch the original, just because this movie was so good.
A note on the camera angles and stylizied scenes, good job Nolan, you truly did an epic job portraying that vexing state of mind, the light playing, the speeding up and slowing down, the warping of depth, all very well done here, hope to see more of that coming from you.
Cant wait for this one to come to DVD...