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Insomnia (2002)

  Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Al Pacino, Hilary Swank, Robin Williams
Links: Insomnia on the IMDb, Official site, Buy on DVD, Buy on Video
Genre: Suspense/Horror/Thriller

This movie gets: 7.00 (3 ratings) Ranking: Ranked equal 104th of 187 movies (2 ratings minimum; see full chart)

"Well, it started off well…" - a review by mino

Insomnia is a stylish, beautifully-shot detective thriller which is well-made, well-written, and well-acted, without actually being very good.

Al Pacino stars as Will Dormer, a highly-respected Los Angeles detective, who is sent up to a small town in Alaska to investigate a murder. Will quickly hones in on the killer, but has some problems of his own: he can't sleep because of the constant sunlight, and he's worried about the fact that there's an Internal Affairs investigation going on into his department back in LA.

Insomnia is a bit different from your regular murder thriller, á la The Silence of the Lambs (1991) or Se7en (1995), in that the killer is found almost immediately — or at least, very quickly indeed. The second half of the movie, rather than being about detective work, is about the mind-games between Dormer and the bad guy (a role slipped into with relish by Robin Williams), and the three-way battle between Dormer, the baddie, and the rookie detective played by Hilary Swank (I'm not sure if it's the character or the actor who irritates me here; I suspect it's a bit of both), a character with more than a touch of Jodie Foster's Lambs character Clarice Starling, but a bit more peppy and a lot more annoying. Pacino is great — though it is kind of disturbing how much he looks like Keith Richards these days.

The problem with the post-Lambs surge in popularity with this type of film is that you have to create something pretty special to be noticed. I mean, Se7en was special, but who can really tell the difference between a Kiss The Girls (1997) and a Copycat (1995)? They all look the same after a while. This is where Insomnia decides to break the mould a little, and use the murderer-on-the-loose more as a launching point than as the key plot hook. While Insomnia gets off to a pretty good start, it seems to get a bit confused somewhere towards the end and say to itself ‘Oh no! I haven't been exactly like all the other murderer-on-the-loose movies! People might get confused and not know what sort of movie I am! How about I cram in all the standard clichés from those movies right at the end, so people don't get mixed-up!’ and, correspondingly, loses much of the cred it might otherwise have had.

Probably the most heinous example is the ‘chase’ scene across a bunch of logs floating in the river near a sawmill. Firstly, this is a psychological movie which has, up to this point, been coping perfectly well without a chase scene: it doesn't need one, and it's out of place. Secondly, floating logs? How horribly trite can it be? I mean, sure, we know you're in Alaska, OK? You don't need to make it painfully obvious. It's like the Alaskan Tourism Board or something funded the movie, and weren't happy with the number of Alaska-like activities in it, and said ‘how about log-rolling’. I mean, why not have the protagonist hunting in an igloo town for the killer, or losing the killer in the midst of a crowd at the baby-fur-seal-clubbing competition? Please.

Oh well: can't win 'em all, I suppose.

mino gives this movie 6 out of 10.
Review created on Tue 13 Jan 2004

"This is Robin Williams' film" - a review by pearly

Al Pacino stars as Dormer, an LA cop who is sent to investigate the murder of a teenage girl. Working with him is the enthusiastic and good-at-what-she-does rookie Ellie Burr (Hilary Swank). In the town of Nightmute, where the sun never sets, Dormer has difficulty sleeping, especially after he starts getting late night phone calls from the murderer himself.

If a movie that sits vaguely in the thriller genre reminds you of The Silence of the Lambs (1991), that's a good thing. And Insomnia did this. I'm not exactly sure why - it was probably an atmosphere thing more than any one specific incident. As far as suspense goes, Insomnia does a top job.

And then there's the casting. Robin Williams playing a baddy?! Pure genius. It looks like his role in One Hour Photo (2002) is opening doors for him in the "playing a baddy" market. And, the thing is, it fits him like a glove. Who woulda thought that the star of Mrs. Doubtfire (1993) would be capable of playing a "serious" and scary role so well? So you have Robin playing off against Al's rough-around-the-edges, experienced cop, and Hilary's (big-toothed) perky, eager-to-please rookie. They fit well together, to form a cohesive unit.

Given that this is Christopher Nolan's follow-up to Memento (2000), it's not nearly as impressive, but Insomnia is a well-rounded movie and a satisfying watch. It revisits many of the same themes as other films of its genre, but it tries to mix things up a little at the same time.

P.S. the Flash version of the Insomnia website is a wanky piece of crap - so minus a point for that.

pearly gives this movie 6 out of 10.
Review created on Wed 9 Oct 2002

Movie review statistics

Ratings given without reviews:

Number of reviews: 2
Number of ratings: 3
Average rating: 7.00
Lowest rating: 6 (by mino, pearly)
Highest rating: 9 (by em_fiction)
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