WWTW Rewind – ‘Insomnia’ (2002)

WWTW Rewind – ‘Insomnia’ (2002)

Before “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight,” Christopher Nolan busied himself by giving Al Pacino the best role of his golden years.

“Insomnia” casts Pacino as – yawn – another cop, but this time he’s chasing a killer across verdant Alaskan grounds, not the Big Apple.

Pacino plays Will Dormer, an L.A. detective invited to the 49th state on behalf of an old police pal (Paul Dooley).

A local teen was beaten, killed and left on a garbage dump, and it’s up to Dormer, a fellow LA cop (Martin Donovan) and local officer (Hilary Swank) to find the killer.

The chase leads the officers to the girl’s unsavory group of friends as well as a novelist (Robin Williams) who may be connected to the crime.

Pacino’s heavy-lidded gaze couldn’t be a better fit for the beleaguered Dormer, who hasn’t got so much as a catnap since arriving in Alaska. His weary gaze sags lower in every scene, and Pacino manipulates his falling face with a craftsman’s care.

Nolan, remaking a 1997 Norwegian thriller, draws plenty of tension out of transporting an otherwise routine cop movie into fresh terrain. Alaska becomes yet another character to contend with here, and it’s a bold and exciting addition to an exhausted genre.

Williams excels here, proving anew he’s far better suited to quirky character pieces than broad comedies at this stage in his career. And while Swank’s appearance has grown downright stark of late (she could bench press Pacino AND Williams) she’s aw-shucks sweet as a starstruck cop.

It all commences in a conventional shoot-out, but even the gun slinging is done with the kind of attention to detail seen too infrequently of late.

The tense and psychologically shrewd “Insomnia” is the perfect plan B for your next video store trek.

(Photo: Al Pacino and Robin Williams share a close embrace in the cop thriller “Insomnia.”)

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  4. WWTW Rewind – “12 Angry Men” (1957)
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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

blackhawk12151No Gravatar October 29, 2008 at 3:29 pm

There is only one Hitchcock. And there will only ever be one Hitchcock.


While a lot of people were saying M. Night Shyamalan was the next Hitch I always thought, based on Memento and Insomnia, that Christopher Nolan had the goods to at least come close to being the next Hitch.

I loved Batman Begins and The Dark Knight but I would also love seeing Nolan tackle another noirish mystery like Insomnia.

cftotoNo Gravatar October 29, 2008 at 3:31 pm

Getting labeled “the next Fill-in-the-blank” can be a curse, indeed. But while I love the Bat films it would be great for Nolan to return to movies like Insomnia….

I guess the worst thing you can label a director these days is ‘the next M. Night …”

JudithNo Gravatar October 29, 2008 at 6:11 pm

I like this film as well, although I think it’s more pretty good as opposed to really good. I enjoy the mood and the morally culpable protagonist (and I agree this was a good outing for Pacino), but it felt to me like a two-legged stool – not enough surprise in the villain (hardly any, once Robin Williams is introduced) and not quite enough smarts in the fencing between Pacino & Williams. But, still, enjoyable. Wish there were more “pretty good” films like this being made.

chaseNo Gravatar October 30, 2008 at 5:45 am

Oh, lord, this was a horrible film …

the book, fine, it had the time to develop the madness, make me understand the tension… this flick, in less than 2 hours, it was rushed, and when it comes to explaining how sleeplessness drives you made, it just came out as silly …

plus, everyone hates Robin Williams, so there’s that.

cftotoNo Gravatar October 30, 2008 at 5:03 pm

Hey, no dissenting opinions allowed!

Kidding … sorry you didn’t dig “Insomnia.” It wasn’t as bad as “Patch Adams,” though, right???

SouthSideShortyNo Gravatar December 26, 2011 at 5:56 pm

Decent flick, but I just found it hard to swallow that teen-age girls would be so smitten with the over-50 Pacino and Williams. Good actors both, but couldn’t Nolan have cast actors more suitable to the ages of the characters, or at least dropped the storylines of girls going gaga over grampas?

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