Insomnia

on May 24, 2002 by Annlee Ellingson
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   A remake of the 1997 Norwegian film by Erik Skjoldbjaerg, "Insomnia" is both remarkably similar and fundamentally different from the original. While some settings and dialogue are exactly the same, the plot and relationships between characters are more developed. While the protagonist takes almost exactly the same course of action, he is both more likable and more complex. The result is a superior version of an already very good film.

   Here the action has been transplanted from the Arctic Circle in northern Norway to the Land of the Midnight Sun in Alaska. Will Dormer (Al Pacino) is a seasoned Los Angeles police detective who has been asked to travel north with his partner Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan) to solve an unspeakable crime--the homicide of a local high school girl. Their business trip also allows them to avoid an Internal Affairs investigation that is ravaging their department.

   In the course of their investigation, the detectives lure their suspect to a remote cabin with the victim's discarded backpack. The sting goes awry, and the cops are forced to pursue him in the dense Arctic fog. Unable to distinguish between his partner and his prey, Dormer accidentally shoots Eckhart, who accuses him trying to kill him because he had intended to cut a deal with Internal Affairs. Eckahrt dies, and, recognizing that he has legitimate motive, Dormer covers up his crime, claiming their suspect did it.

   But Dormer was not alone in the mist. Unable to sleep in the 24-hour daylight, he soon starts getting phone calls in the middle of the night from the killer (Robin Williams), who saw him shoot his partner and proposes they work together to frame the murdered student's abusive boyfriend. Meanwhile, ambitious yet inexperienced local detective Ellie Burr (Hilary Swank) is assigned to the Eckhart shooting. She's an ardent admirer of Dormer's, and, recognizing this, he encourages her to investigate further--at his own peril--when she presents a sanitized version of the events for him to sign off on. Dormer is a good cop, but he turned a corner a long time ago wherein he'd collar a criminal at any cost--"The end justifies the means, right?"

   Supported by a dream cast--Pacino is reliably rousing, and Williams, in the midst of a string of departures ("Death to Smoochy," the upcoming "One Hour Photo"), while he has little to do, demonstrates why he won an Oscar for a dramatic role (in "Good Will Hunting")--helmer Christopher Nolan, coming off his critically acclaimed indie hit "Memento," doesn't bank on his actors to get him through his first studio pic. Rather, he infuses the film with his signature style, using extreme close-ups and exaggerated sounds to communicate his protagonist's stress, guilt and sleep deprivation; spectacular overhead cinematography of vast blue-gray fields of ice, rolling hills blanketed with evergreen trees and dense fog to convey the setting; and a recurring image of blood seeping through the threads of a shirt cuff, depicting Dormer's defining moment. Starring Al Pacino, Robin Williams, Hilary Swank, Maura Tierney, Martin Donovan, Nicky Katt and Paul Dooley. Directed by Christopher Nolan. Written by Hillary Seitz. Produced by Paul Junger Witt, Edward L. McDonnell, Broderick Johnson and Andrew A. Kosove. A Warner Bros. release. Thriller. Rated R for language, some violence and brief nudity. Running time: 117 min

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