Directed by Christopher Nolan
Not quite Christopher Nolan’s sleeper-hit, “Insomnia,” adapted from the 1997 Norwegian film of the same name, starts off just like most Hollywood detective movies. Al Pacino plays Will Dormer, a hot-shot detective from L.A. reeling from a bad case. He and his partner, Hap (Martin Donovan), are called up to Alaska to work on a special case with a local policewoman, Ellie Burr (Hilary Swank), who has closely followed Dormer’s work for years. In the small Alaskan town, a teenage girl was brutally beaten and the police don’t have any strong leads. After the first few days and restless, sunny Alaskan nights, Dormer realizes this case isn’t going his way either. So he makes a few unethical choices that come back to bite him. It would be a cliché under the direction of anyone else, but Nolan has a way of turning sloppy thrillers into cerebral mysteries.
“Insomnia” marks the first and last time that Christopher Nolan didn’t have a screenplay credit on a movie he directed. You can tell. He does his best, but sometimes it falls into the same category of formulaic thriller you’ve seen before. It’s a good thriller, but only a subpar Nolan thriller. It’s no “Memento” or “The Prestige,” I’m sorry to say. The Americanized version of the script is written by Hillary Seitz (whose only other credit is 2008’s so-so action flick “Eagle Eye”). At the very least, it hides themes behind the plot – that’s more than most thrillers can say. But it’s Al Pacino who saves it from being as bad as it could be. Detective Dormer (a play on the Spanish word dormir, “to sleep”) may be clichéd at times, imparting aged nuggets of investigative advice to the younger Ellie, but Pacino plays it as well as it’s ever been played. You can only work with what you have to work with. Pacino surely knows that; he’s worked with his share of lousy scripts. Swank gives some spunk to the female detective, though she’s no Clarice Starling.
This is one of Nolan’s worst, but that says more about Nolan’s amazing repertoire than “Insomnia.” Give it a shot.
“Insomnia” is on Blu-ray and DVD.