It's great to report that two genuine movie stars shine brighter
than the midnight sun with this slow movie about an Alaskan
murder that grips tighter than a Husky in heat.
Insomnia is Al Pacino's best movie since Sea of Love; and
Robin William's best since... well, since I started falling
asleepduring schmaltz like Good Will, Patch Adams.
Pacino plays a right clever dick LA detective sent oop North
to help the local plods and plodettes solve the brutal murder
of a local high school girl.
The reason he and his partner get this chilly not-so plum
assignment is a current internal affairs investigation into
Pacino and his possible framing of a stone-cold guilty child
killer back in LA.
The plot revolves around Pacino's inability to sleep in the
land of the midnight sun. But is it just the lack of night
- or is it his guilty conscience, or worry, or a mixture of
Whatever - Pacino seems to disintegrate before our eyes over
the six day investigation. His cool bravado slowly sinking
into a sea of ambiguity over right and wrong, the ends justifying
the means - and exactly mirroring the collapse of his face
into worry lines and crevices.
Into the mix Brit director Christopher Nolan and writer Hillary
Seitz toss an infatuated female detective played very believably
by Hilary Swank. She's been an avid fan of Pacino's case solving
career since Detective School (no joke).
With Pacino hot on the tail of the killer, his partner (and
potential witness against him in the IA investigation) is
fatally shot. Pacino claims it was the local killer as they
closed in on him all so-symbolically in a fog on the beach.
Now the hunter becomes the hunted as the killer and the young
detective home in on him.
This is a quietly gripping thriller, made all the better by
William's understated and almost sympathetic performance as
a Humbert Humbert (Lolita) fantasist who can't see himself
as a corruptor of a young woman still a child in the eyes
of the law.
Nolan has shown himself well able to shape other peoples material
and major movie talent into his own directing style, so memorably
started with last year's critically acclaimed arthouse smash
Insomnia is definitely worth losing sleep over to catch on
the big screen.
his third film, Nolan (Following, Memento) sets out to prove
that he can handle a straightforward narrative with this adaptation
of the 1997 Norwegian drama and a cast that includes three
Oscar winners. The result is a thoroughly haunting and insidious
thriller about personal demons and guilty consciences. L.A.
cops Will and Hap (Pacino and Donovan) are summoned to rural
Alaska to help with a murder case. Back home they're under
investigation for shady dealings, but the young local cop
(Swank) sees Will as her hero. Which is a bit of a problem
when in the course of the investigation Will "accidentally"
kills someone. Despite this, and the fact that he can't sleep
in the land of midnight sun, Will finds a trail to the murderer
(Williams), a creepy man who seems to want to be caught but
still engages Will in a deeply disturbing cat and mouse game.
Motives are the thing here, and the film sharply reveals each
character (including a number of small supporting roles) in
minute detail as the puzzle pieces fall into place. Each person
is a bundle of complex emotions and frustrations, dealing
with side issues that profoundly affect the central mystery.
And every member of the cast is fantastic. Pacino gives an
astonishingly internal turn as a man tortured by his conscience,
trying to bend the rules without losing his integrity. Or
maybe it's too late for that. He knows that there are only
two reasons why he can't sleep at night: either he's done
something wrong or there's a piece of the puzzle missing ...
but which is it? Nolan brings out these ideas with insinuating
camerawork, sharp editing, clever music (by David Julyan)
and a terrific use of the setting as an integral part of the
story. This is a tightly woven film--suspenseful without ever
being terribly exciting, a slow psychological burn that grips
us with its sheer intelligence, even though it's rather slow
and listless. And it's also, at its core, a standard cop drama,
complete with the climactic crescendo of violence. But by
then we're completely in its spell.