I'm having trouble keeping my eyes open. I've been up half the night. I can't shake these visions out of
my head. I can't help but think I've done something terrible, something I can never forgive myself for.
Let's just hope i can stay awake and pull myself together long enough to review "Insomnia", an action
drama released in 2002 and directed by Christopher Nolan.
I'm the Ranting Usher. Let me talk you to your seat.
Will Dormer (Al Pacino) is a Los Angeles police detective who is flown into Nightmute, the Halibut fishing
capital of the world in northern Alaska, to solve the homicide of a teenage girl, Kay Connell (Crystal
Lowe). He then commits a murder of his own, his partner Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan). while pursuing
the killer through a heavy mist.
it never gets dark in Nightmute during the winter. Dormer is deprived of sleep while haunted by the
memory of his partner dying in his arms. Dormer questions whether he meant to kill him or not. He
would have had a motive. Eckhart was going to cut a deal with Internal Affairs, which would cause them
to come crashing down on Will when they discover he tampered with evidence during a previous
Dormer receives a phone call in the middle of the night from the man he had chased in the fog. "i saw
you shoot your partner," he says. "We share a secret, Will. We both know how easy it is to kill
Insomnia introduces a unique dilemma. We've all been inundated with hundreds of murder mysteries,
but how many of them turn the hero into a suspect forced to cover up his own crime while investigating
someone else's? How many of them show the hero wallowing in the same predicament as the villain?
It's an intriguing twist.
The director's use of storytelling through Will's point of view is very effective. When he's examining Kay
Connell's body in the autopsy room, he lets us envision the killer brutally beating her then clipping her
fingernails and washing her hair. These details give us insight into Dormer's expertise as a homicide
detective and the way he assesses clues presented in the case. "The killer knew what we'd be looking
for," Dormer says..."and he calmly removed those traces. This guy crossed the line, and he didn't even
blink. You don't come back from that."
Dormer has nightmarish visions of blood soaking into a cloth.
I admire the subtle ways the antagonist Walter Finch (Robin Williams) is introduced. At first he's only
mentioned. Then he appears briefly in the doorway while Dormer is searching his apartment. Walter
then flees the scene. During the phone conversation Dormer offers to meet Finch face to face. Finch
replies, "hmmm throw a little gas on the fire?" and hangs up. These moments make Finch out to be
mysterious. We want to know more about him.
Dormer's internal and external struggles are well portrayed through masterful acting and with the use of
a camera. For instance, close-ups are used in certain scenes to demonstrate his mental state. We see
his drooping eyelids and sagging cheeks. He nearly dozes off while he's driving.
When Dormer makes a phone-call to Hap's wife Trish (Kerry Sandomirsky) to tell her her husband is
gone, a close-up allows viewers to see the pain etching across his face while Trish is crying and
shouting at him. We see in his eyes the ambivalence and the anguish.
There is a clever cinematography with the contrast of light and dark. He tries to remain in the dark so he
can sleep. The light appears in glints and flashes. It is harsh and intrusive. Either Dormer attempts to
block the light from shining through his bedroom window, or he prevents it from exposing his guilt.
The movie has a few minor flaws, mostly to do with plot structure. I understand that blasting away in an
intense fog is necessary to advance the story, but would an experienced police detective really do that?
Also, why are Dormer and Eckhart partners to begin with? What captain or chief of police would assign
two officers that have that much tension between them?
Hilary Swank in the supporting role of Ellie Burr, is Dormer's greatest fan and has followed his career
very closely. So, how is it that she knows nothing about the Internal Affairs case?
There's a scene in which Dormer plays chicken with a giant truck while Kay's best-friend Tanya Francke
(Katharine Isabelle) is in the car with him that doesn't make much sense to me. Whether it's meant to
break up the continuity of them riding together or not, I just don't know.
Lastly, the effect of envisioning the drops of blood and seeing the blood oozing into the cloth may be a
bit too repetitive.
Those things aside, the casting and the actor's performances are definitely worthy of praise. I love that
two legendary actors whom we've never seen act opposite one another appear on screen together for
the first time. Scarface meets Good Morning Vietnam. So, thumbs up to casting director Marci Liroff.
Al Pacino's portrayal of a character who starts out confident and resourceful and whose mental state
while undergoing relentless insomnia, is so convincing I wondered whether or not Pacino pulled
all-nighters during shooting.
Robin Williams is an odd choice for a villain given his flair for outrageous comedies such as Mrs.
Doubtfire, but I have to admit that he is genuinely malevolent. He takes advantage of Dormer's
condition so he can manipulate and blackmail him. He lashes out when someone disapproves or rejects
him and even rationalizes primal killing instincts. He is extremely dangerous.
During an interview conducted on the Special Features side of the DVD, Hilary Swank utilizes her
admiration for Al Pacino and her excitement at the opportunity to work with him while playing Ellie Burr. I
always like it when actors are able to allow some of their own emotions to show through in their
characters. it makes her seem less like a character and more like real person. She quotes Dormer by
saying. "A good cop can't sleep because a piece of the puzzle is missing. A bad cop can't sleep
because his conscience won't let him."
We know Burr is going to be watching Dormer's every move to see how he operates.
Dormer offers her expert advice. "It's all about the small stuff. You know, small lies, small mistakes.
People give themselves away in misdemeanors same as they do in murder cases. The second you're
about to dismiss something, think about it, then look at it again."
A clever irony is incorporated when Ellie takes Dormer's advice and uses it to his peril.
All I'll say about the ending is that it reinforces an underlying theme woven throughout the picture that
conveys a universal truth. People should stay true to themselves and their own nature. Terrible things
happen when they don't.
I really like "Insomnia" and I recommend it to those who love detective stories and gripping suspense.
It is a thrill a minute ride that will keep you wide awake and on the edge of your seat.
I am the Ranting Usher. Let me talk you into some peace and quiet.
Sleep tight...if you can.
Do you agree with my review? What do you do wlhen you have insomnia?
Let me know in the comments section.
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