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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.
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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.
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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.
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on January 21, 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.
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on May 13, 2012
If you like detective stories, you will probably like this. But don't expect "whodunnit" to be the main issue; that is disclosed fairly early on. It's more who is going to find out, what are going to be the consequences, and how are the various characters going to get themselves out of the fine mess they've gotten into.

Al Pacino play Detective Will Dormer, invited to a small town in northern Alaska to help with a murder and also to get him out of LA, where an Internal Affairs investigation is cooking. His partner Hap is with him, and explains that he is going to have to make a deal with IA to save his own skin and protect his family. He says Dormer won't be dragged into the mess, but Dormer insists he will be. (We find out later why.)

Dormer and Hap are met by an attractive young female local detective who is to work with them. She's smart, and she idolizes Dormer. She did her case study at the academy on one of his most famous cases. The local police chief is a friend of Dormer's, and it was undoubtedly he who asked for Dormer to come and assist.

The case is the brutal murder of an 18-yea-old girl whose body was found naked in the garbage dump. Dormer immediately notices some unusual features about the body, and finds some useful evidence at the girl's home. (Nah, not going to tell you what.) He and the local cops interview the girl's boyfriend, but Dormer is convinced he was not the killer. (Not going to tell you why, either.)

The primary suspect turns out to be a mystery writer who lives about 15 miles away (Robin Williams) who has befriended the girl because she wanted to be a writer, and because she needed someone to talk to. He's very smooth, this one; after all he's a writer of murder mysteries, and knows how police operate.

The title refers to the fact that it is high summer, and the sun basically never goes down. Dormer can't sleep, and he is tormented by, among other things, phone calls from the writer in the wee small hours of the morning because he can't sleep either. Eventually, Dormer is so in need of sleep that he's going really nuts. Practically gets himself killed falling asleep while driving, and eventually begins having hallucinations. He's determined to crack the case before he cracks up, and he does. In a way.

Watch it; you'll be glad I didn't tell you too much.
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on May 23, 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.
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on November 11, 2014
Walter Finch: Must be hard to concentrate on this case after 3 days without sleep.
Ellie Burr: A good cop can't sleep because he's missing a piece of the puzzle. And a bad cop can't sleep because his conscience won't let him.
I have read articles that stated One Hour Photo was creepy and it was. However, in the movie Insomnia Robin Williams' character is real good at playing mind games with a detective that is trying to solve a murder; mind games verses photos. When you can get into someone's head and leave them doubting their own actions that is scary and make for a good story with a good cast.
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on April 19, 2016
I really enjoyed 'Insomnia.' For me the movie itself revolves around the power of Al Pacino and his captivating performance in the film. This psychological drama lives on heavy performances with a captivating plot and sub-plot to drive an interesting story through the Alaskan tundra. I do want to start by voicing my biggest complaint with the movie before I jump on the bandwagon and rave it up. The idea of pushing an LA detective out to Alaska to work a case based off of an IA (internal affairs) investigation seems forced and incoherent. With that out of my system, let's look at all of the good.

The casting was superb to say the least. Al Pacino and Robin Williams make a tremendously powerful opposing force duo that help pulse the entire film to the end. Hilary Swank portrays a young detective who must straddle the line between the job and her emotions while watching her biggest idol become more and more enthralled with the case. Maura Tierney and Martin Donovan play important and interesting side roles in the ever twisting story. Wrapping up the list of good names on this film is director Christopher Nolan who once again takes a film and turns it into an emotional epic.

The acting on its own is enough to warrant a viewing of 'Insomnia' and when you couple in the beautiful landscapes and sequences with an interesting and tantalizing script you are left with a truly top class film. I don't want to talk much about the film itself because even small details will change your perception and feelings toward the film. Just snag it, curl up, and enjoy this amazing drama!

5 Sleepless Stars out of 5!
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on October 11, 2014
This is a film I've rented more than once -- in fact, next time I'm in the mood for this one, I'll buy it. The plot is rich and complex, the acting is top notch, the cast is superb, and the setting and atmosphere of this film PERFECTLY compliment the story line. BOY is Williams chilling and believable in this role -- one of his best on-the-dark-side roles. This film really draws you in and holds you there --- highly entertaining, intelligent thriller with subtle, meaty performances by a stand-out cast.
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on August 13, 2012
Insomnia is a bit different from what Christopher Nolan is known for, but it's still another fantastic notch on his belt. I stated in my review of The Prestige that, that movie was possibly his weakest, and I felt that way until revisiting this film. I think Insomnia is his weakest entry overall, but it was still a fantastic thriller. Calling any of Nolan's film weaker than their counterparts doesn't quite mean the same as it would for many other filmmakers, because I like all of his films that I've seen. First of all, the pacing is surprisingly well done. His films tend to run two hours plus, but this one was just under two hours. That was great because it had a quicker pace that captured the feeling of trying to solve a murder case in the first few days (any First 48 fans out there?). This movie was a remake apparently, I wasn't aware of that until doing some research. It's a remake of a 1997 Erik Skjoldbjærg movie by the same name. I cannot judge whether or not it does the original justice, but I can say that it is worth a watch.

Al Pacino did a great, if not subdued, job as a conflicted veteran LAPD officer who recently came under scrutiny for some questionable acts he and his partner committed while on the job. What's new, it's the LAPD? Opposite of Pacino was Robin Williams as a creepy local novelist, and my was he great. Between this and One Hour Photo, I've seen a sinister side of Williams that I'd love to see more, and more of in the future. Hilary Swank rounds out the leads as an unexperienced, and eager, local officer assisting Pacino's character, Dormer, on this investigation. She's always reliable, and hardly ever outshines her co-stars. Same goes for her in this film. Aside from the effective leads, another aid to this film in setting the tone of a classic suspense novel or film was the snowy, cold, lonely Alaskan setting. Alaska, when used correctly, can be an amazingly chilling (no pun intended) setting for any bleak, mysterious, etc story. Insomnia is not as dark as what one would have grown accustomed to by Nolan's standards (literally because the sun never sets in Alaska), but because of the somber tone, it's still a dark story.

The story is also pretty complex. It's not difficult to follow by any means, but the way that events unfold increasingly complicate things for our lead character, until that faithful day in all suspense thrillers where things come to a head and then pop, like a figurative pimple. It was really interesting to see Pacino's character progress through one distressing situation after another, all while battling his own demons from his past. Again though, the actors are what really drive this thriller home. Not to beat a dead horse, but Robin Williams is quite disturbing, and Hilary Swank also did quite well. The music did not stand out as much as the scores in Nolan's films usually do. This was before Nolan and Zimmer hooked up, so that's understandable. Overall, I liked it a lot. It hasn't become a classic in its genre, but it's still a great crime story and case study. It's smartly crafted, and definitely worth everyone's time.
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