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.”)