Friday, July 13, 2012

Insomnia (2002 film)

Based on the 1997 Norwegian film of the same name, Insomnia is the story of a detective who travels to a small Alaskan fishing town to investigate a murder where he deals with a mysterious writer as well as the troubling location he’s staying at. Directed by Christopher Nolan with a screenplay by Hilary Seitz, the film is an Americanized take on Erik Skoldbaejrg’s 1997 film that explores the world of madness and guilt as the latter is part of Nolan’s interests in a lot of his work. Starring Al Pacino, Robin Williams, Hilary Swank, Martin Donovan, Nicky Katt, Maura Tierney, Crystal Lowe, and Paul Dooley. Insomnia is a stylish yet engaging thriller from Christopher Nolan.

After the mysterious death of a 17-year-old girl named Kay Connell (Crystal Lowe), two L.A. detectives in Will Dormer (Al Pacino) and Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan) are asked by Chief Nyback (Paul Dooley) to investigate as they arrive to the small Alaskan fishing town of Nightmute. Awaiting for their arrival is Ellie Burr (Hilary Swank) who is a fan of Dormer’s work as she is eager to aid in the investigation as Dormer is dealing with issues involving internal affairs over supposedly falsifying evidence. After interrogating Kay’s boyfriend Randy Stetz (Jonathan Jackson) who claims to not know anything, Kay’s backpack is found near a shack where Dormer, Hap, Ellie, and other locals try to find out who owns the shack. Instead, a chase occurs leading Will to make a mistake that would impact everything as he eventually faces guilt over what happened as well as insomnia in a town where it’s day at the time of the season.

With Burr asked to investigate Burr’s shooting, Dormer continues to investigate as he eventually gets answers from Kay’s friend Tanya (Katherine Isabelle) about who Kay may have been seeing. Dormer discovers that it is a local writer named Walter Finch (Robin Williams) who may have been the one who killed Kay as Finch had been trying to contact him since he saw what really happened to Hap. The two eventually meet face-to-face where they conspire to frame Randy since Finch is blackmailing Dormer about what he knows based on taped conversations. While Burr is getting closer to what really happened to Hap, Dormer’s guilt and growing insomnia starts to consume him as he goes for one more confrontation with Finch.

The film is about a L.A. detective who travels to Alaska to investigate the death of a young girl only to be consumed by guilt and dealing with a girl’s killer who is trying to play a battle of wits against him. It’s a film that explores a man’s descent into madness as Hilary Seitz’s screenplay is quite faithful to the original Erik Skoldbaejrg’s 1997 film of the same name. The only major difference is that a few characters like Will Dormer and Walter Finch are given more complexity while the Ellie Burr character is expanded more from the original. Adding to Dormer’s sense of guilt is an inquiry from internal affairs about his reputation where it eventually plays to his motivation of wanting to get the person even if there’s a lack of evidence.

Christopher Nolan’s direction is definitely engaging for the way he shoots the beautiful Alaskan locations with wide shots as well as creating a mood for many of the film’s suspenseful scenes. Particularly in close-ups of the characters as well as medium shots to have two characters in a frame to set up a simple conversation or to play out an investigation. Nolan’s camera is always there to show something while repeating certain images and such to play up Dormer’s guilt and paranoia. Overall, Nolan creates a truly intriguing suspense film that plays up to what is expected in the genre.

Cinematographer Wally Pfister does excellent work with the film‘s low-colored cinematography to play up the look of the Alaskan locations as well as some amazing interiors of Dormer‘s room and other interiors to play out the mood of the film. Editor Dody Dorn does great work with the editing by creating montages to play up Dormer‘s guilt with repeated images as well as using jump-cuts to play out Dormer‘s troubled state of mind. Production designer Nathan Crowley, with set decorator Peter Lando and art director Michael Diner, does wonderful work with the look of the lodge that Dormer and Hap stay in as well as the station where everyone does the investigation.

Costume designer Tish Monaghan does good work with the clothes by keeping it casual for many of the characters. Sound editors Aaron Glascock and Curt Schulkey does nice work with the sound for the way gunshots are sound and a key scene where Dormer hears a lot of things as voices are muffled to play out his descent into madness. The film’s score by David Julyan is wonderful for its low-key yet mesmerizing orchestral score filled with heavy piano melodies and string arrangements to play out the film’s suspense.

The casting by Marci Liroff is brilliant for the ensemble that is created as it features some notable appearances from Emily Perkins as a girl speaking at Kay’s funeral, Nicky Katt and Larry Holden as a couple of local cops, Crystal Lowe as the victim Kay Connell, Paul Dooley as Chief Nyback, Katherine Isabelle as Kay’s friend Tanya, and Jonathan Jackson as Kay’s boyfriend Randy Stetz. Martin Donovan is excellent as Will’s ill-fated partner Hap who has issues with Will over a deal he wants to make with internal affairs. Maura Tierney is superb as the lodge owner Rachel who gives a very low-key performance as a woman who observes Will at the lodge. Hilary Swank is great as detective Ellie Burr who takes many of Will’s advice to be a great investigator as she uses his advice and her skills to uncover many things as it’s a very intense and lively performance from Swank.

Robin Williams is amazing as the mysterious Walter Finch where Williams is quite restrained in his role as a novelist who may have killed a young woman only to try and outwit Will Dormer over what Will had done as there’s a bit of dark charm in Williams’ performance. Finally, there’s Al Pacino in a terrific performance as Will Dormer where Pacino brings a great intensity and weariness to a man consumed by guilt as he is desperate to do what is right even if it means having to do things the wrong way. It’s one of Pacino’s finer performances of his career to display his gifts as an actor.

Insomnia is a stellar yet fascinating film from Christopher Nolan that features top-notch work from Al Pacino, Robin Williams, and Hilary Swank. While it may not have the intense approach of the original 1997 film or the stylish mis-en-scene of Nolan’s other films. It is still a remake that works to play up what is expected in the suspense genre as well as being faithful to Erik Skoldbaejrg’s original film. In the end, Insomnia is a superb thriller from Christopher Nolan.

© thevoid99 2012


Anonymous said...

Good review Steve. I didn't hate this movie but it definitely isn't my favorite out of Nolan's "non-Batman" flicks. However, I loved Williams performance here and I wish he did more of these rather than going back to making movies for the whole family. They don't want you anymore Robin! Move on, man!

thevoid99 said...

So far, this is my least favorite of Nolan's films because it's his most straightforward as well as the fact that it's a remake of a much better film.

I agree that Robin Williams needs to stop doing family comedies. They're beneath him and he needs to do something that is worthwhile than fucking Old Dogs.

Anonymous said...

Great post, haven't seen the film but after reading yoyr interesting review I will give it a watch.

thevoid99 said...

@vinnieh-Thanks. Just make sure you check out the original 1997 film which I think is the better version.

s. said...

I really like this movie, I prefer it to tDK and Inception which rely too much on tricks and have way too many characters. This one has proper and complex protagonist and I really liked Pacino's work as well as cinematography and editing.

thevoid99 said...

@Sati-It is Nolan's most straightforward film though I do think it's his weakest. Check out the original which is way more fucked up than Nolan's version.

Alex Withrow said...

Nice. I really love Insomnia, and I agree that it is rather faithful to Skoldbaejrg's darker version, while still being different.

I agree that everyone here is in top form: Pfister, Williams, Pacino, and Nolan himself. Love this moody little thriller.

thevoid99 said...

@Alex-It's one of the better thrillers of the last decade. Plus, I just loved how it looked and a lot of those wide shots were really a precursor of what was to come from Nolan. I see it more as a transitional film from him.

Chip Lary said...

I felt both Williams and Pacino did good jobs in this film. I really liked the taunting about the sun being up all the time and how it was going to drive him crazy.

thevoid99 said...

@Chip-Same here since it is one of the reasons for Pacino's character to go a little nuts though his character that was played by Stellan Skarsgard went a little crazier in the original film.