Nope, not a reference to last week’s lack of sleep but the 2002 Christopher Nolan film starring Al Pacino, Robin Williams and Hilary Swank. Most films after watching find a niche somewhere in the movie section of my mental shelving. Even if they catch a little dust or are exiled to a vault never to be relived, I usually remember actually watching them. Being something of a fan of Christopher Nolan films (The Dark Knight, Inception and Memento being absolutely stunning) I was quite excited when Steve said we had another of his on the pile waiting to be watched. The title did not ring any bells so we happily sat down to watch Insomnia.
However, within moments of seeing Al Pacino’s well weathered face, his intensely terrifying stare and the moody, bleak landscape shots of our setting I knew I had watched it before. But could I tell you what happened? Not a chance! But as each scene unfolded I remembered a little bit more. It was as if I was watching it in a hesitant fast-forward, the next few minutes unfurling in my brain but never quick enough to know the ending. I felt like I was suffering from mental hiccups with blanked out moments – all I can think is perhaps I previously watched this film during one of my own insomniac slumps. Either that or alcohol had been involved! I am not sure this is a positive.
Set in the eeriness of backwater Alaska when the sun refuses to set, Pacino (Will Dormer) is temporarily transferred from LA homicide along with his partner to investigate a terrible murder of a high school girl. As with any true detective dramas, our dubious hero is reckless and devoured by his own faults and historic actions. This standard role has been played by countless ‘mavericks’ but none come quite as close to perfection as Al Pacino. He plays a rogue on the edge like no one else! But if his previous misdemeanors (and current cock-ups) were not enough to plague his conscience, then the lack of sleep will certainly morph them into something much more menacing. Quickly he becomes twisted into the story, complicating the line between good and bad, wrong and right. As a man caught between the light and the dark, he understandably bends towards devils and angels on his shoulders. In Insomnia these manifest as the cold blooded criminal, Walter Finch (Robin Williams) and the young, ambitious Ellie Burr (Hilary Swank) looking to Pacino as something of a mentor. He connects with them both, seeing both sides to himself in their lives, but which side will he inevitably fall down upon?
Pacino, as ever, is fabulous and Hilary Swank is a decent female lead. However, I am never keen on Robin Williams. For such a cold character, his casting, for me, just did not work. Although able to deliver a straight role, I couldn’t feel the depth to his character – I kept thinking he was about to pull off the rubbery mask to reveal someone more suitable instead. Perhaps though this was a stroke of brilliance and a sense of reality; the worst people may often masquerade as the mundane, the ordinary and the obliquely obvious.
In general though, I wasn’t overly excited by the film. It is a fairly standard plot with a pretty obvious ending and I can quite understand how I forgot entirely about its content. There are some well scripted scenes and it is knit together well, it just didn’t knock me out. The most spectacular elements were to be found in the scenery – such a tremendous landscape. This combined with never setting sun I found incredibly clever. Often, directors and writers rely on darkness and the unknown to stir the emotions and cause anxiety. Nolan does not do this. He uses plain sight and knowledge openly and uses the unnerving light to its full advantage. Sadly though, had it not been for Al Pacino, I don’t think this intelligent twist to fear would have worked. It needed a strong anchor and a seasoned bad-ass to hold it together.
I suspect others may make more of this film than I. I am not panning it, by no means, it is certainly well worth a watch if for only the great direction. Insomnia is far from Nolan’s best, but certainly a DVD to own. After all, if you can forget as easily as me then its a lazy Saturday night treat time and time again!