This was definitely ice and snow week for me. I saw both Insomnia and the Inuit film, The Fast Runner. Insomnia is set in Alaska (actually filmed in British Columbia). Like The Fast Runner, all the action in Insomnia takes place in daylight. It is summer in the Arctic. In one of the early scenes of Insomnia, Al Pacino wants to go to the local High School and interview some students. He is informed that it is 10 o’clock, 10pm that is. Pacino plays a legendary Los Angeles police detective who has arrived in a small town in Alaska with his partner (Martin Donavan) to investigate a murder for an old police pal (Paul Dooley). Helping out in the investigation are two local cops (Hilary Swank and Nicky Katt). They are investigating the killing of a young teenage girl. We find out very early in the film, even earlier if you saw the trailers, that the murderer is a local author (Robin Williams). Pacino is under a cloud. He is under investigation by IA (internal affairs) back in LA. His partner is about to testify against him except that he is conveniently killed shortly after they arrive in Alaska. Pacino is feeling guilty. He can’t sleep because it never gets dark. Williams is tormenting him. Williams isn’t that smart but he is running rings around Pacino. Pacino is a total basket case.
I’m not giving anything away that doesn’t happen in the first 15 minutes of Insomnia. That 15 minutes may seem like an hour, however. The director, Christopher Nolan, is good, very good. His last film was Memento, my pick for best film of 2001. If you haven’t seen it, go and rent it now! Anyway, Nolan is good at creating atmosphere. And in Insomnia, he makes time seem to crawl. The movie is in color but it seems like it is black and white. The vistas surrounding the little town are beautiful but foreboding. The passage of time seems to cease. This movie feels hours long even though it’s running time is the normal 2 hours. It isn’t long because you are bored. It is because you are living life as Pacino’s character.
The cast is excellent and I enjoyed this film even though Pacino and Williams are not my favorite actors. With Williams, I am still suffering post-traumatic-stress syndrome from Patch Adams. Pacino usually drives me nuts with his overacting. But here, the director has them both under tight control. Swank (Boys Don’t Cry) is good but is not extending her acting abilities. Katt, who is always cranky on Boston Public, is mainly cranky here too. Maura Tierney is pretty much wasted as the woman behind the counter at he hotel where Pacino is staying. She has singlehandedly saved ER the last two seasons and I love her very deeply. Paul Dooley is, well, Paul Dooley. He’s one of the kings of character acting. He’s been playing clueless father figures for 30 years from Breaking Away to Runaway Bride.
The only area in which this film lets
down, is the script. The story is very pedestrian and predictable. And the characters, other than
Pacino’s, are not well fleshed out.
You will have no trouble guessing what happens to Pacino and Williams in
the end. But just the atmospherics of this film make it worth seeing. After the
film is over, you will feel like you need a nap.