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Overall Rating

Awesome: 37.5%
Worth A Look44.17%
Average: 11.67%
Pretty Bad: 4.17%
Total Crap: 2.5%

6 reviews, 84 user ratings

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Insomnia (2002)
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by Erik Childress

"Impossible To Fall Asleep Through"
5 stars

ďA good cop canít sleep because heís missing a piece of the puzzle. A bad cop canít sleep because his conscience wonít let him.Ē That was something that Detective Will Dormer once said and itís repeated back to him by a colleague worried about his nocturnal activities in the land of the Midnight Sun. We know whatís been happening to this Los Angeles cop investigating a murder in Alaska and its just one of the many complexities in Christopher Nolanís brilliant remake of the 1997 film, which confirms the directorís arrival as a powerful new storyteller.

Al Pacino, in one of his greatest performances, plays Dormer who along with his partner, Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan) have flown up to Alaska at the request of old friend, Chief Charles Nyback (Paul Dooley) to help uncover the mystery of a brutally beaten teenage girl. Also happy to meet Will is the fresh-faced Ellie Burr (Hilary Swank) who once wrote a thesis paper on him in the Academy and is thrilled to finally come face-to-face with her idle. Will & Hap can also use the vacation thanks to an impending Internal Affairs investigation thatís coming down hard on their LA department, which may spill over to themselves.

The meticulous care that the murderer took to clean up the body (including washing the girlís hair) leads the detectives to two suspects. One is her abusive boyfriend, Randy Stetz (Jonathan Jackson) and the other is the local writer, Walter Finch (Robin Williams), who spins yarns about police proceduals. With the stakes continually raised in the investigations in both Alaska and Los Angeles, the sun becomes Dormerís worst enemy finding himself unable to sleep night after night, despite efforts to block out the light that shines 24-7 during this time of the year.

Insomnia is one of those rare thrillers that uses character studies to develop its suspense instead of purely manufactured action sequences that the cast must wade through like an obstacle course before the plot can kick back into gear. Pacinoís Will Dormer is one of his most fascinating roles, a good cop forced to cover his tracks and all his future actions because he once bended the rules to ensure the right thing prevailed. But what is truly the cause of his restlessness and what is the answer to that opening question? Does Dormer believe heís wrong or is he just worried about othersí perception of his conduct? We, the audience, become those others forced into jury duty to perceive how honest his mistakes were and if he should pay for them?

The same can be said for Williamsí Walter Finch, a lonely man whose weaknesses got the better of him. During his interactions with Dormer, we sense that he both possesses a dark side and is remorseful for his crimes. Does a man deserve the worst for a single mistake? Itís a question that haunts both Dormer and Finch as they continually make secondary mistakes to shield themselves from ever answering the primary query. One man can easily be seen as good while the other can labeled evil without a second glance. Is it equitable to judge one any less than the other. Even Ellie is forced into the role of moral inquisitor as she uncovers clues about the case leading her to confrontations sheís uncertain of conducting.

These are unusually intelligent questions for what can be viewed as a pretty routine cop drama, but director Christopher Nolan, working from the source material of Nikolaj Frobenius and Erik Skjoldbjśrgís original 1997 screenplay, handles it with the skill of Picasso, showing us a beautiful painting only to have us discussing what we just saw for days. His second film, Memento, was my choice as the best film of 2001 and now his third is certain to be rather high on this yearís list.

While there are some well-crafted suspense sequences (involving fogs and logs), Insomnia does move at a leisurely pace that may nod-off some viewers (especially when Williams doesnít show up until the second hour.) But Nolan understands that a great payoff needs a great setup and the climax does not disappoint, bringing all the plot threads to a head without feeling contrived for a second. He carefully teases us with flashbacks and shocks us with revelations so perfectly timed you may have to check yourself for ropeburns around your neck.

Pacino has made a late career surge that has associated him with sometimes substituting yelling for acting, a trait that Iíve found rather entertaining from Dick Tracy to Scent of a Woman and Heat to The Devilís Advocate. Some of his most unheralded performances though have come in films like Donnie Brasco and The Insider, where heís played either successful, intelligent crusaders or second-level losers who possess a certain sadness that his place in the world doesnít have the luster it once did.

In 1997, Pacino unjustifiably failed to be nominated for either his Willy Loman-esque mobster in Brasco or his outspoken and loving-every-minute Lucifer in The Devilís Advocate. If Academy voters make the same mistake this year, then they are the ones who truly need to wake up. We see the well-oiled professional side of Pacinoís Dormer slowly entrapped by his own choices and the people judging him. If you think Pacino looks weathered at the beginning, just wait until he looks as if heís about to collapse under the weight of his eyebags at any moment. Itís an absolutely bravura performance.

Deserving credit also belongs to Robin Williams, who completely buries any trace of the comic looking for a laugh at every waking moment. Williams has always acquitted himself as a fine dramatic actor in films ranging from Awakenings to Good Will Hunting. While lesser fans may have considered roles in Patch Adams and Bicentennial Man to be creepy, Williams elevates the creep factor exponentially here as the unpredictable Walter Finch. By keeping things quiet in nearly all of his scenes, even when heís challenged, Williams is able to keep us off guard to discover how much of his character is penitent and how much is deceptively evil. Hilary Swank also brings more depth to her role than the thankless nature sheís originally presented in to us.

Insomnia belongs on the growing list of great thrillers already released this year (Frailty, Changing Lanes) and like those, itís one thatís liable to haunt you for awhile. Itís both a picture in the Hitchcockian tradition designed to purely entertain and tingle your senses and a thinking personís drama that constantly defies you to ask the question, ďWhat would you do?Ē Nolanís cinematographer, Wally Pfister, accurately reflects the coldness and isolation of both the Alaskan landscape and of the characters themselves. As you find yourself getting numb and restless during the film and even after you leave the theater, you will think back to Dormer trying desperately to block out the sun as if something from above was constantly trying to keep his eyes open to answer that first question.

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originally posted: 05/24/02 02:25:39
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User Comments

9/22/17 morris campbell good script good acting good film IMHO 4 stars
8/30/11 Monday Morning Good story but slow to unfold. Could have cut, like 30 minutes from it. 4 stars
12/07/10 Kyle Amazing film, Nolan's best film except Memento. Far better than The Dark Knight/Inception. 5 stars
10/19/09 sachin Al Pacino's Finest Performance Till Date(2009) 5 stars
11/26/08 Shaun Wallner Thought this was a good film. 5 stars
7/22/08 the dork knight Probably one of the last good movies you'll ever see from Pacino 5 stars
1/19/08 Pamela White great plot and realistic sleep deprivation subplot 5 stars
8/21/07 Bhavesh Good movie 4 stars
7/26/07 Quigley See it just for Al Pacino alone. Nolan's direction is top-notch. It still didn't grab me. 3 stars
4/21/07 Ronin Awesome acting. Script not so great. 4 stars
2/23/07 Weblynx thriller, great acting, i loved it 5 stars
2/08/07 Raph Branca This film came out of left field. Surprisingly great piece of work. 5 stars
7/13/06 free bonus sign up no fine print or wagering sport betting selection free bonus sign up no fine print or wagering 5 stars
4/12/06 anthonyuk superb acting, fantastic 5 stars
10/10/05 Agent Sands Robin Williams steals the whole fucking movie. 4 stars
8/22/05 R.W. Welch Engrossing cop flick tho ending is not quite convincing. Top drawer acting. 4 stars
5/28/05 Gary Surprisingly good-- Great performance by Pacino. Great directors commentary 5 stars
5/28/05 Indrid Cold A little disappointing, but still a meaty, entertaining thriller. 4 stars
9/26/04 NJ Cup Winner 95-00-03 Three Oscar winners make for one entertaining movie that stayed w/me 4 stars
5/28/04 Me Good acting, but it was kind of boring... 4 stars
5/21/04 tatum Good suspenser, film's misleading trailer nothing like the film 4 stars
4/27/04 4x4 Hilary awesome. Pacino OK. Willams spastic. Not bad. 4 stars
1/22/04 fhfj Taut storyline, acting, and direction, though somewhat predictable. 4 stars
12/10/03 Samuel A very good movie Pacino and Williams work well together!! 3 stars
11/14/03 Edith the Maid and Meredith the Mermaid Pacino's worst movie other'n DEVIL'S ADVOCATE, not counting awful cameo in GIGLI. 2 stars
9/14/03 KING EDWARD good stuff - makes me want to strangle a goat, while screaming 'god bless america' 4 stars
5/30/03 abhijeet bhadra It"s informative , should include pictures. 3 stars
5/14/03 Mr. Hat (I'm Back Mo'Fos!!!) Good acting, directing, and kind of a nice story. Not bad. 4 stars
3/10/03 Matt Thiel Nolan's mediocre followup to Memento. Sigh. 2 stars
1/29/03 fraz visually appealing, complex plot and characters, believable acting 4 stars
1/03/03 . Robin Williams was suprisingly good as the psycho! 4 stars
12/03/02 George Jung A shining light in the shit that was the movies of 2002. 5 stars
11/21/02 Phil M. Aficionado Well done except for a few contrivances; An A-/B+ kind of effort. See it. 4 stars
11/11/02 Henk Binnendijk A moody movie exploring the value of police ethics. 5 stars
11/10/02 Daniel Good cast wasted! This yarn is way too predictable. 3 stars
11/06/02 Punk_Ass No real twists or turns. Ending sucked. ok if you need to kill some time 3 stars
10/27/02 Elizaveta Pretty good...Robin Williams should've suffered more 4 stars
10/26/02 Monster W. Kung Awesome. One of the best crime/thrillers I've seen in a long time. 5 stars
10/22/02 Ken The main character died, so it must be good! Boring, boring, boring. 2 stars
10/18/02 Reini Urban not a masterpiece, too olished, but quite okay 4 stars
10/16/02 TwIsTeD Patch Adams Beats Ass 5 stars
9/29/02 Peter Sherlock Very average. Too many inconsistencies. 2 stars
9/25/02 James Renwick Ultimately doesn't work - Dialogue - Dialogue - Dialogue 4 stars
9/11/02 Francofile I'm so sick of Hollywood forcemeat. Is the (excellent) 1997 original too "foreign"!? 3 stars
9/07/02 trumplesneaker fab film in a fab location. it had holes but i can live with them. i like KMG's comment! 4 stars
9/06/02 Matthew Smith an outstanding thriller, taut and terrific edge of seat stuff from start to finish 5 stars
8/19/02 Mr. Hat (I'm Back!) Christopher Nolan is a really good director, and the cast is great. 4 stars
8/13/02 blakers great 5 stars
8/07/02 Tiffany Faye Hawthorne Fancies itself cool for being non-formulaic. But sometimes that's just not so hot! 2 stars
7/02/02 KMG It was boring. Pacino should've just covered the windows! 3 stars
6/30/02 Holland Weeks Effective acting; double plot tension; plausible character complexity 5 stars
6/28/02 Bada Bing Crosby All three stars deliver the goods & director is quantum..funny joke by Katt, too! 5 stars
6/22/02 cleansparks very good movie, pacino is excellent 5 stars
6/20/02 Issec Wang It was good but not amazing. I liked it a lot. Impressive. 4 stars
6/16/02 JO Beyond words...I didn't think anything Al Pacino was in could suck as much as this... 1 stars
6/15/02 Cher Pretty bad acting, decent plot doesn't make up for it 1 stars
6/12/02 Obi Wan Very well done!! I did expect more in the thriller dept though!! 4 stars
6/11/02 spaceworm GODFATHERs apart, Pacino's best work. 4 stars
6/10/02 Coitus For a murder suspense movie, it had a "different angle." Could rent it, and not miss much. 3 stars
6/10/02 BrodieMan Suspenseful and well done. Pacino is awesome ! 4 stars
6/08/02 malcolm how did cute-ass Hillary Swank look so boyish in Boys Don't Cry 5 stars
6/07/02 Brendan Pacino and Williams are fabulous, this film is what a psychological thriller should be 5 stars
6/03/02 Poumpus and better than you I was dissapointed, though the acting and directing were fabulous the movie was dull. 3 stars
6/02/02 Suzz great director, actors, cinematograpy; plot so-so with no surprises 3 stars
6/02/02 Teresa Goes beyond who killed who and why, to who can get away with what! Go See!! 4 stars
6/01/02 Mary Lou Exceptional. For me, Pacino can do no wrong anyway, but this may his best work ever. 5 stars
6/01/02 monica I LOVED THIS MOVIE 5 stars
5/31/02 Janine Lay very boring and no thrills, depressing 3 stars
5/31/02 MyztiQ excellent thriller 5 stars
5/31/02 John Kosanovich Good acting, just telling a story, nothing to experience. 3 stars
5/30/02 davey mac way better than anything else in the theatres lately.... 4 stars
5/30/02 Dr Laura Is A Bitch (Doo dah, doo dah...) Engaging, brilliantly acted, had plot holes. 4 stars
5/29/02 Blackops good acting, good movie. I wonder if some of you go to the movie before you make a comment? 4 stars
5/29/02 ajay loved it. 5 stars
5/28/02 Greyjack Very good film. Pacino in top form (and not over-the-top form). Pleasure to watch. 4 stars
5/28/02 P-Nut Robin Williams should stick to comedy. Pacino proves why he is so overrated. 1 stars
5/27/02 Film Guy Great movie. Williams & Pacino were great. Vindar U moron 4 stars
5/26/02 Nick2k different nolan pace. good though. always interesting. 4 stars
5/26/02 billyoby not memento - very average 3 stars
5/26/02 Blubberbot It was ok. Not good. Not bad. 3 stars
5/26/02 rue the whirl superior to the original in my opinion. 5 stars
5/25/02 frank an excellent psychological thriller 4 stars
5/24/02 The Bomb 69 the original was better, though Williams was a much better bad guy than the original 5 stars
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  24-May-2002 (R)



Directed by
  Christopher Nolan

Written by
  Hillary Seitz

  Al Pacino
  Hilary Swank
  Robin Williams
  Maura Tierney
  Martin Donovan
  Nicky Katt

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