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Acclaimed veteran LAPD detective Will Dormer (Al Pacino) and his partner Hap (Martin Donovan) are sent to a small Alaskan town to investigate the nasty murder of a 17 year old schoolgirl. In the permanent daylight of Alaska’s summer, they fossick for evidence with the local cops, especially Ellie, a young officer who is a Dormer fan (Hilary Swank). Meanwhile in Los Angeles, Internal Affairs are cracking down, and Hap confesses to Dormer that he’s keen to cut a deal so he can keep his career safe. When local author Walter Finch (Robin Williams) is identified as the main suspect, Dormer sets up a stakeout on a misty lakeside, during which Hap is shot dead, but Finch gets away. The shooter is thought to be Finch, but Dormer knows different. The psychological battle really gets under way when Finch contacts Dormer with a cool proposition.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It’s so rare that an American remake of a European film is worth the effort, never mind actually achieving creative excellence in its own right. Insomnia, based on the 1997 Norwegian film of the same name, is such a pleasure, relying on the inner action, the emotional chases and the bullets made of words to engage us, instead of simple physical violence. The setting is moved from Norway to Alaska, and instead of Stellan Skarsgaard, it’s Al Pacino in the writer’s spotlight as the clever detective with demons to wrestle. The script handles the moral issues with great finesse and the complexities of human nature are treated with comprehensive understanding. 

It’s not a simplistic, black and white, open and shut case, which is why it’s so darned enjoyable. We waver with the wicked, and search our consciences uneasily. Al Pacino is even more impressive here than he was in The Insider, Hilary Swank is terrific as the naïve young cop who learns some hard lessons, and Robin Williams (in the second seriously dramatic role I’ve seen him play within a single week of movie previews – One Hour Photo being the other) is stretched out of his usual acting skin and into something interesting. Superb work by lighting cameraman Wally Pfister (who worked with director Chris Nolan on Memento), excellent editing and a rich, dynamic score complete the film’s sense of time and place – and sensibility – perfectly. Insomnia is as satisfying as insomnia isn’t; even jaded film palates will love this sophisticated, well made and edgy psychological thriller. 

Special Features reviewed by Louise Keller:
The main bonus material for this superb film lies in the Production Diaries section, offering conversations between Christopher Nolan and Al Pacino, a making-of feature, plus two interesting insights from both cinematographer Wally Pfister and production designer Nathan Crowle, who take us on location. In Night for Day, Nolan talks about his interest in the project ever since he saw the original film in 1997; executive producer Stephen Soderbergh explains what appeals to him about it – from ‘who-dun-it’ to ‘why-dun-it’. There are commentaries by Nolan, and scene specific commentaries from Hilary Swank, screenwriter Hillary Seitz, editor Dody Dorn, Pfister, Crowley, allowing us the option to play combined commentaries. This is a terrific idea, allowing us to dip in and out of various scenes, but without the need to watch the entire movie to do so. 

Eyes Wide Open is a short documentary that talks to real insomniacs and a Sleep Disorder Centre about the tortuous experience of becoming sleep deprived. We hear that the majority of the population need 1/3 of each 24 hours. Not necessarily at night. Insomnia is a DVD that is worth staying up for!

Published October 2, 2003

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(US, 2002)

CAST: Al Pacino, Robin Williams, Hilary Swank, Martin Donovan, Maura Tierney, Nicky Katt, Jonathan Jackson, Paul Dooley

DIRECTOR: Christopher Nolan

SCRIPT: Hillary Seitz

RUNNING TIME: 118 minutes

PRESENTATION: widescreen; dolby digital 5.1;

SPECIAL FEATURES: Production Diaries; Featurette Eyes Wide Open; Additional Scene (with optional commentary);


DVD RELEASE: April 30, 2003; (retail) September 3, 2003

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