Friday, August 8, 2014


I haven't seen every film directed by Christopher Nolan but I can tell you that I've enjoyed each and every one of his films that I have seen. I've yet to see his debut feature, FOLLOWING (1998) and THE PRESTIGE (2006) and like many other film fans, I'm anxiously awaiting the release of INTERSTELLAR later this year.

I saw MEMENTO (2000) when it was first released and I was mightily impressed by this clever neo-noir's innovative told-backwards narrative structure. It was a fascinating, difficult to pull off feat of storytelling but Nolan handled it extremely well. I thoroughly enjoyed all three films in his Batman trilogy: BATMAN BEGINS (2005), THE DARK KNIGHT (2008) and THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012). A buddy of mine thinks that Nolan's films "ruined" Batman. They didn't. If any filmmaker "ruined" Batman, it was Joel Schumacher, director of the abominable BATMAN FOREVER and BATMAN AND ROBIN. But we just celebrated the 75th birthday of Batman and the caped crusader appears to be very much alive and well in a multitude of media. He's pretty durable for a seventy-five-year-old. Nolan's INCEPTION (2010), is one of the ten best films I've seen so far in this 14 and 1/2 year old 21st century.

I finally got around to watching INSOMNIA (2002) the other day, which comes between MEMENTO and BATMAN BEGINS, in the Nolan filmography. It's another very good neo-noir that starts out as a straight murder mystery and then takes a turn into something far more complex.

Al Pacino stars as a celebrated LAPD homicide detective sent to Alaska (along with his partner) to investigate the brutal murder of a teenage girl. The heat is on back in LA as both men are being investigated by Internal Affairs. Once in Alaska, Pacino is teamed up with a young police woman (Hilary Swank), who has studied every case in Pacino's career. Pacino and the local cops soon corner a suspect in a deserted cabin in the woods but the suspect escapes and, in the ensuing pursuit in a very heavy fog, Pacino winds up accidentally shooting and killing his partner. This is a good thing for Pacino, as his partner was about to sing to IA. Pacino figures he can manipulate the evidence in the shooting and make it look like the suspect shot his partner leaving him free and clear to continue his murder investigation.

But Swank is assigned to investigate the shooting and the facts just don't add up. Meanwhile, Pacino is contacted by the killer (Robin Williams), who knows he killed his partner. A tense game of cat and mouse begins between the two men. They are both guilty of killing but both men see a way out of their respective predicaments by working together. Williams will keep quiet about the death of Pacino's partner if Pacino will help Williams frame a patsy for the girl's murder.

To complicate the issue, Pacino is haunted by memories of a past homicide investigation and he's stressed out by lack of sleep. He can't adjust to the perpetual daylight in Alaska and his sleep deprivation leads to hallucinations, lapses of judgement and a suffocating increase in guilt, remorse and regret.

Nolan puts this cast through a twisty thriller highlighted by gorgeous location photography and two strong performances from Pacino and Williams. Pacino can sometimes be a bit hammy in my opinion but he's good here as a man slowly going insane under the immense mental and physical strains he's experiencing. He makes a great noir protagonist: seriously flawed but desperately trying to do the right thing. Williams dials the mugging down to zero and plays his soft spoken mystery writer turned killer as a calm, cool and collected regular guy which only adds to the creepiness factor.

Will both men get away with their crimes? Will Pacino purge himself of his guilt? Will he ever get a good night's sleep? Those questions (and more) are answered in the climax of the film. I thoroughly enjoyed INSOMNIA. It's yet another Christopher Nolan film that's a winner in my book.


  1. Frank, did you see the Norwegian film on which this was based? Rotten Tomatoes gave it 97%. I saw it a few years ago and really liked it and I'm not sure that I ever saw Nolan's version but will check it out.

    Norwegian filmmaker Erik Skjoldbjaerg makes his directorial debut with the psychological police drama Insomnia. Swedish homicide detective Jonas Engström (Stellan Skarsgård) and his partner, Erik Vik (Sverre Anker Ousdal), arrive in a small Northern Norwegian town to help the local police investigate the murder of a teenage girl. When Jonas finds the girl's backpack, he sets a trap for the killer near a remote shed. While waiting to make an ambush in the morning fog, Jonas accidentally shoots Erik. He knows it was only an accident, but he decides to keep it a secret because he could lose his job. Jonas chooses to carry on with his investigation while trying to cover up the evidence of Erik's death. Meanwhile, he's unable to get any sleep due to the constant sunlight of the Norwegian summer and his increasingly guilty conscience. His only help comes from highly intuitive local police officer Hilda Haugen (Gisken Armand), who begins to form her own doubts about Jonas. As he continues to lose his grip on the case at hand, he becomes dangerously close to the suspects, Jon Holt (Bjørn Floberg) and Frøya (Marianne O. Ulrichsen).

  2. Bob:

    I haven't seen the original Norweigan version of INSOMNIA but I will definitely check it out. Thanks for the recommendation!