NOLAN REVIEW: Insomnia

11 07 2010

After the smashing success that was “Memento,” Nolan went mainstream and made a movie for Warner Bros. – a remake of the Danish film “Insomnia.”

“Insomnia” is definitely the most conventional and least Nolanesque movie that Christopher Nolan has made in his career, but even that doesn’t stop it from being one great movie.  It’s a great psychological thriller and murder mystery that is well plotted and paced, plus it features three great performances from Oscar champs Pacino, Williams, and Swank.

Tough-as-nails cop Dormer, played by Pacino of course, is sent along with his partner to investigate a murder in summertime Alaska – where the sun doesn’t set.  And the disturbing beating and death of the teenager doesn’t get to Dormer so much as that sun does, which causes him to grow restless.  As if that isn’t enough, his partner is willing to throw him under the bus for personal gain, and he has to put up with a zealous hometown cop (Swank) who learned how to do her job from the lessons he preached.

It’s got that same kind of eerie, psychological vibe as “Shutter Island” gave off this year.  But what makes the pendulum swing in favor of Scorsese’s latest over Nolan’s film is the directorial control.  Scorsese slowly leads us into the mental anguish of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Teddy Daniels, making us grow more and more anxious until we almost can’t take it anymore.  Nolan in “Insomnia” only hints at Dormer’s torment by giving the occasional visual clue.  At the end, he goes all in and uses the cinematography and quick editing to make us feel nauseous and overwhelmed like the character.  It’s very effective, but the power might have been even greater had it been more present throughout the movie.

In fact, I’d like to see Nolan remake his own movie here in a decade or so.  Not necessarily “Insomnia” itself, but with more filmmaking expertise, he could revisit this genre and give it a masterpiece.

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2 responses

13 07 2010
Whiffer

Oh, you have no idea. This movie was itself a remake of Skoldjaeberg’s “Insomnia.” As Criterion blogger Matthew Dessem makes clear, the role of Al Pacino for the tough cop meant he had to be very, very heroic. In the original, Dormer is a cop who loses all touch with reality when he is deprived of sleep and leaves the case alive and having wrecked the lives of almost everybody in his path. But he solves the case. Pacino dies a hero’s death, regains his grip on reality, and still solves the case. They’re both cool. But a remake of a remake of a remake? Hm.

15 07 2010
Aiden R.

I’m a huge fan of this movie and haven’t seen it in ages. Too bad that it’s the most overlooked of everything Noldan’s done outside of Following and I have no idea why that is. Definitely need to give this another watch and give the original a chance, too. Great review, man.

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