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Film Review: Insomnia

The director of Memento has lost no momentum...

The opening frames of Christopher Nolan's ?Insomnia?, a complex and thoughtful thriller, are heavily brooding-shots of two detectives shoehorned into an antiquated flying boat bumping over icy Alaskan wastelands alternate with eerie visions of rivulets of blood seeping into white wool. Detective Will Dormer is the film's star turn and is superbly played by Al Pacino. These days Pacino is weather-beaten and wizened (he's so wrinkled he reminds you of a self deprecatory line of W.H. Auden's - ?if a fly walked across my face he would break a leg?). The part of Will Dormer is tailor made for him - he's a walking shrug, weary, downbeat, resigned, and chronically hampered by insomnia. He and his WASPish sidekick, Al Pacino and Robin Williams in Insomnia Hap Ekhart (superbly played by Martin Donovan) are summoned from LA to Alaska to investigate a particularly brutal murder of a young girl. Both cops are under serious investigation by Internal Affairs. Although the film is totally shot in daylight - 24 days are the summer norm near the North Pole - the mood darkens as the action progresses, with terse dialogue and sparse rations of action interspersed by vivid flashbacks of the murder victim.

Ellie Burr, the razor keen local cop, is energetically played by Hilary Swank. Pacino's character teases her gently about her manic diligence and she smiles and blushes. The semi jocose byplay between Pacino and Swank represent the movie's only light moments and she handles these and Insomnia's action scenes well. However it's hard not to think that Swank's role and character are a little undercooked and represent the movie's only major weakness. "Insomnia? features two separate and very different killings and portrays their effect on Pacino's progressively sleep deprived character. Robin Williams surfaces halfway through the movie, playing Walter Finch, a poised, serpentine Peter Lorre-like panto villain. In one protracted scene Williams features in distinctly unflattering profile - the hair is dyed jet black, his Punch like nose filling the screen, and his eyes are beady, hooded and malevolent. He torments Pacino with late night whispered phone calls, threatens him with blackmail, and there's wholesale tampering with murder evidence by all parties. As the pace quickens the wrong people are collared and manhandled, sins of omission are revealed and still the sun does not set. The film's final scene is bloody, gripping but brilliantly realised and almost comes as a relief to the audience. "Insomnia? is a fine ensemble piece and its great virtue is the play it makes of established values, both moral and cinematic. It's entirely non judgemental - good cops are shot through with their own brand of self-serving evils and clearly see themselves in conflict with a world where ends totally justify means. Even Robin William's portrayal of Walter Finch has at its heart a emptiness which is almost pitiable. This movie's direction is taut , its script is drum tight and the cinematography is spellbinding.

If you enjoy great cinema you'll love ?Insomnia?

Anthony Morrissey

(bullet) Click here for an alternate review of Insomnia
(bullet) Click here for a review of Christopher Nolan's previous film Memento.

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