"Insomnia" DVD, Blu-ray Review

7/21/2010 Posted by Admin


DVD, Blu-ray Review

Directed by Christopher Nolan, Written by Hilary Seitz, 118 Minutes, Rated R

By our guest blogger, Rob Stammitti

It's always interesting to go back to a director's earlier work after he's really made something of himself--with two huge Batman films and another definite hit this summer with "Inception," Christopher Nolan has come a long way from his independent roots. "Insomnia" was his first major studio work, and even then he was bringing his cerebral and weighty sensibilities to what would ordinarily be a typical Hollywood thriller.

In what may be one of his few great performances of the past decade, Al Pacino plays Detective Will Dormer, a character very much in the same vein as Nolan's other protagonists--like Leonard Shelby of "Memento" or Bruce Wayne of the Batman films, he is stricken with immense inner turmoil. For what, we don't quite know. Brief, intangible cuts to some unknown past occurrence pop up in Dormer's mind throughout the film, and we definitely get a sense that, despite his job, he may not be as innocent as he appears.

He and his partner Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan) are sent to the remote town of Nightmute, Alaska, where a missing girl has been found murdered. The local police are clueless, so Dormer and Eckhart attempt to assist them in their efforts to find the murderer. Dormer finds himself troubled by one of the town's more unique qualities--Nightmute is so far north that there are 6 months of 24 hours daylight. Dormer's deliriousness causes him to accidentally shoot his partner while viewing a crime scene, and now, stricken with even more guilt and terrible insomnia, the detective has to attempt to solve the murder of the girl while subsequently preventing the truth of his partner's death to come to light. Things get even more complicated, however, when Dormer learns his suspect, the girl's mentor, Walter Finch (Robin Williams), witnessed Dormer accidentally shooting his partner.

The best thing about "Insomnia"--and all of Nolan's films, really--is how deftly he takes a genre with plenty of audience expectations and completely turns it on its head, making it unique and artful while still miraculously staying true to the genre. He turned a superhero film into an epic crime morality tale with "The Dark Knight," a sci-fi film into a twisty costume drama with "The Prestige," and with "Insomnia," he takes a thriller and, keeping the thrills intact, he makes it just as much about guilt and morality, themes he's covered to a far greater extent since, but ones which it can plainly be seen the director has an extremely strong grasp of.

Pacino is, of course, a complete delight, and it's always a pleasure to see the actor at the top of his game. He spent a good part of the previous decade doing mostly over-the-top and sub-par work, but his performance here is subtle and brooding, and he hadn't really captured such intensity since "Glengarry Glen Ross." As impressive as Pacino is, though, he truly meets his match with Williams. The actor definitely displayed fine dramatic chops in "Good Will Hunting" and "The Fisher King," but he really lets out a completely different kind of weight with his performance here. If Pacino is Nolan's typical protagonist, Williams is definitely his trademark villain. He so brilliantly exudes this quiet passion and insanity, and in many ways his character works as a yin to Heath Ledger's Joker's yang. Both serve as catalysts, characters that act less as full-on destructive forces and more as mysterious, ever-present monsters that let the demons of their enemies eat them up from the inside. Williams really hasn't been better.

It's also important to keep in mind that "Insomnia" is a remake. It begs the question, do remakes suck because they're remakes, or because someone as immensely talented as Christopher Nolan doesn't make them?

Grade: A

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