Review: Insomnia (2002)


Nolan tells us it’s all in the mind…again.

Sleep, we all need it; the undeniable truth that one cannot function without it. The foggy feeling of unreality when a disturbed night ruins your following day; well multiply that by at least five (days) and you may share a thought for LA detective Will Dormer (Al Pacino) whose assignment to the Alaskan perma-day sunshine to solve the gruesome murder of a local teenager, is wreaking all kinds of havoc with his restless head in supremo Christopher Nolan’s remake of the 1997 Norwegian  original.

But pause before you think too sympathetically for this insomniac cop, because there is more to this tale than first appears. Currently under investigation back in his native LA, Dormer may already “have lost his way” a good cop whose morals may well have been compromised in his pursuit of justice.

Similarly workaholic like to Pacino’s other LA detective of ‘Heat’ but more cowed, Dormer picks up the trail of perpetrator Robin Williams’ at an isolated cabin, a panic stricken pursuit ensues that leads Dormer into a clouded shootout that has devastating consequences; leading Will into a cat and mouse chase and a curious alliance with the murderer.

It would seem that revealing Williams as the murderer would spoil matters somewhat but in ‘Insomnia’ this is not the case, as it is not a ‘who done it?’ but more of a ‘why did they do it and how can they get away with it?’ It is this theme that elevates ‘Insomnia’ beyond the ordinary of a ‘by the numbers’ cop thriller as Pacino’s and William’s interplay of deceitful conjuring and outdoing fascinates and offers a different take on the hunter and the hunted crime story.

As you would expect from director Christopher Nolan, ‘Insomnia’ is a superb psychological thriller where the line between reality and delusions becomes increasingly blurred as Dormer’s sleep deprivation and tussle with his conscience stray him from the good cop path even further as everything “begins to catch up” with him.

Nolan again showcases his diversionary style, coming after the brilliance of ‘Memento’ and before the big time in his ‘Dark Knight’ odyssey. Brutal, fluttering flashbacks of Dormer’s and Finch’s personal recollections disturb, once more studying the inner frailty of the tortured mind against stupendously captured open Alaskan landscapes.

A heavyweight ensemble of acting and direction lifts ‘Insomnia’ past the usual, as a lower key Pacino draws the emotion, creating derision and sympathy as Dormer brings forth the question of morality and methods. Robin Williams is creepy and manipulative as the assailant Walter Finch, and Hilary Swank as the mentored detective Ellie, resets the moral Compass (just) as the impressionable but capable Alaskan novice. All are on great form.

Detracting slightly are Finch’s delusions and attempts of kinship with Dormer that seem comical rather than the true misunderstanding of a madman, and the stereotypical local cop ineptitude, even for a small town is implausible, sometimes leaving the thought, ‘why didn’t they just do this or that?’

Now nearly ten years after its release and in mind of the upcoming ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ it’s well worth reviewing ‘Insomnia’. It may  now be one of Nolan’s forgotten films and may be considered weak by comparison but ‘Insomnia’ is a good film in its own right and a great showcase of Nolan’s talent before the big time, with an identical style adopted in later ‘Batman Begins’ to visualise all manner of confused states of mind, now synonymous with Nolan the story teller.

‘Claratsi rating’: 8/10 – Recommended

Watched on Sky Movies 12/04/12

Is ‘Insomnia’ Nolan’s least loved movie?

How does it compare with his other movies? – Leave a comment.

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4 responses to “Review: Insomnia (2002)

  1. Actually, INSOMNIA Is BY FAR My FAVE-FAVE Flick From Christopher Nolan. I Saw It In The Theater Opening Weekend, And Was IMMEDIATELY IN LUST!!!
    Even Bought The DVD The Very Day It Arrived In Stores.
    VERY NICE REVIEW!!!
    -BRAD

  2. You may be right, I think insomnia really shown nolans skill early on an for he is in many respects equal to memento which is lauded the more for its unique premise. It’s a very very good film and on reflection I think Pacino and Williams really got into it. I’m glad you like it as do I because It would be a shame for it to be not considered next to his best works.

  3. Such an underrated film. Quite possibly Nolan’s best. Great site by the way I am now following. I just started my own film blog and would appreciate it if you could check it out. Hopefully you’ll like what you see.

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