Fri May 24, 2002
You'll not pause or sleep in this satisfying thriller...
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
I doubt anyone seeing moody thriller "Insomnia" will fall asleep during its tortuous ride through Alaska's forbiddingly beautiful valleys and glaciers. Lack of sleep is the dominant motif: Detective Al Pacino comes to Alaska from Los Angeles to help solve the grizzly murder of a seventeen-year old girl. Along with him is a partner who is ready to tell Internal Affairs about matters that may put the heroic Pacino’s reputation in jeopardy. Pacino can't sleep with all that light and mystery.
Robin Williams is the alleged murderer. Enough said. The value of this Chris Nolan ("Memento") film is not so much in the confluence of the Alaskan murder and the L.A.I.A. investigation as it is in the meeting of these gifted Oscar winners. When I wanted to see Pacino and De Niro in "Heat," I remember being disappointed in the number of one shots and reaction shots which suggested the two actors may not have been together for some of those takes. Not so in "Insomnia" -- not only are Pacino and Williams in a series of two shots, but they also complement each other so well you think you are dreaming. Pacino resists his usual ranting, probably sensing that a weary insomniac couldn’t; Williams underplays with a hint of crazed perversity befitting his character.
Oscar winner Hilary Swank has a weakly written part as the young Alaskan detective learning from Pacino. Even her great smile can't distract us from Pacino and Williams. She does have the best analysis of the film's thematic dilemma: "Good cops can't sleep because that missing piece of the puzzle keeps them awake. Bad cops can't sleep because of their conscience." As he did in "Memento," Nolan keeps you awake wondering about the accuracy of knowledge and the integrity of the law.
But conscience makes cowards of us all, and sleep in the relentless Alaskan sun comes not to the troubled. As Hamlet said:
"To sleep? Perchance to dream. Ay, there’s the rub: /For in that sleep of death what dreams may come, /When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, /Must give us pause."
"Insomnia" is a dream of an acting showcase with cinematographer Wally Pfister landscapes that become another satisfying dark character. You'll not pause or sleep in this satisfying thriller.
John DeSando co-hosts WCBE's "It's Movie Time" and vice-chairs the board of the Film Council of Greater Columbus.