Insomnia, a remake of a 1997 Norwegian film, lets its troubled 'hero' face his dark night of the soul in constant daylight as if to taunt him with the knowledge that every secret, every dirty deed, will be brought to light, sooner or later.
Dormer (Al Pacino) is a good cop with a sterling reputation whose cases are studied in police academies. But he carries his commitment to justice too far by planting evidence, once to ensure that a child killer would not escape conviction. Now, with the Internal Affairs division of the LAPD digging into his past cases, he's been sent with his partner to Nightmute to help the local police solve the murder of a teenage girl.
With his nerves already frayed from the pressure he's under back home, Dormer stumbles around in a perpetual state of unease, rarely sleeping as he piles blankets, pillows, and anything handy against the windows to block out the midnight sun. With his partner, he pursues a suspect through a thick daylight fog, and, unable to see, makes a major mistake which he compounds by trying to conceal it. Unfortunately, the suspect, a writer of dime store mystery thrillers named Walter Finch (Robin Williams) who is, in fact, guilty, witnesses Dormer's deed and blackmails him into silence.
Insomnia then becomes a cat and mouse game, a battle of wits between two guilty men, both of whom try to justify their actions but fail miserably in the attempt. But who is the guiltier of the two? Finch, a cold blooded killer, or the unethical but well-intentioned Dormer who is caught in a trap of his own design with two possible means of escape: compromise the truth still further, or destroy his reputation by owning up to his mistakes.
Directed by Christopher Nolan (Memento), Insomnia gives Al Pacino his best role since 1995's Heat. Bleary-eyed and operating on a sleep deprived brain, he suffers hallucinations as Finch claws through his crumbling conscience. Despite the almost Shakespearean tragedy of his character, Pacino avoids the scenery chewing he has engaged in too often of late, and gives his best performance since The Godfather films.
In a welcome change of pace from the sweet and maddeningly coy roles he usually plays, Robin Williams is also effective as Finch. Ditto Hillary Swank as the novice Alaskan cop who idolizes Dormer. The Alaskan setting is a compelling character in itself. Its icy beauty and almost barren landscape create an isolating effect as symbolic of Dormer's life as that ever present daylight is of his nagging guilt. Although Insomnia has the obligatory chase scenes, it is not an action film. It is a character study and an exceptionally fine one.
Brian W. Fairbanks
Originally published at Paris Woman Journal
© 2002 Brian W. Fairbanks