Film review by Gordon Justesen
Technical specs by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Al Pacino, Robin Williams, Hilary Swank, Maura Tierney, Martin
Donovan, Nicky Katt, Paul Dooley
Director: Christopher Nolan
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 118 Minutes
Release Date: July 13, 2010
Christopher Nolan may just be the hottest director on the rise since
Quentin Tarantino. Rarely does a relatively new and young filmmaker strike gold
twice in the sole span of a year. Nolan has, as his first film was the masterful
and original noir thriller Memento,
which enjoyed a quiet little success for its indie status, as Nolan caught the
eye of major studios. For his follow up feature, a task difficult for a director
of a movie as great as Memento, Nolan
has made a rare accomplishment, which is remaking a relatively known thriller
which has resulted in a version that can completely stand on its own. It has
been said that good movies should never be redone, because the result is often
an insult to the original material. That is not the case, however, with
Nolan’s Insomnia, which is a
remarkably chilling and effective thriller as you’ll ever see.
The movie also has the bonus of delivering three stellar performances from
three greatly gifted actors, including a sinister turn from an actor you’d
least expect to have. Al Pacino creates another fantastic characterization as
Will Dormer, a veteran LA detective who has been assigned, along with his
partner, Hap (Martin Donovan), to aid authorities in a small Alaskan town in the
investigation of a teenage girl’s brutal murder. Dormer’s reason for working
away from his jurisdiction comes as the result of a tension-laced Internal
Affairs investigation back home. It’s safe to say that Dormer and Hap need to
elude the spotlight of the situation. Worsening the pressure is when Hap
confesses to his veteran partner that he has just cut a deal with I.A., which
will possibly free any criminals that Dormer locked up when not playing by the
The two cops soon arrive in the small town, appropriately called Nightmute,
where upon the sun never sets in the summertime. After examining the body and
coming across a bag of items belonging to the deceased girl, Dormer intends to
set a trap for the suspect, along with the assistance of local cop Ellie Burr
(Hilary Swank). Staking out the location of the killing, the suspect is spotted
and pursued by Dormer through a much foggy shoreline, causing the weary-eyed cop
to fire a shot at who he thinks is the suspect, but it turns out to be his
partner. Now the cop has to deal with covering up the accidental shooting while
finding the killer. But pretty soon the killer finds him.
Taunting Dormer through the phone, the suspect, Walter Finch (Robin
Williams), throws the cop a slap in the face. Finch claims he witnessed him
shoot his partner and that alone prevents Dormer from even thinking of turning
Finch in as a suspect, because if he does, Finch will immediately expose him.
What begins now is a tantalizing dose of psychological suspense, as Finch
manipulates Dormer, who has lost the ability to sleep thanks to the never
setting Midnight Sun. And pretty soon, this dilemma causes Dormer to confront
his own demons involving certain actions of his in the past that have brought
him to his current position.
The performances in Insomnia are
masterful every step of the way. First we have the great Al Pacino, who’s
probably played more tortured cops than any actor alive. He also played similar
characterizations in Heat and Serpico,
but this is one of Pacino’s most challenging roles to date. Watching him, you
really get a sense that Pacino himself really did lose a certain amount of sleep
during production. Then there’s Robin Williams in an Oscar-deserving
performance, who delivers an astonishingly creepy turn as Finch. Williams has
long been one of the most renowned comedic actors around, and would always have
a dramatic turn every now and then, like Good
Will Hunting, but in Insomnia, he
presents a side of him I didn’t even think existed. A scene in which Finch
describes his murderous actions to Dormer over the phone is one of the
Williams’ greatest moments ever. And Hilary Swank once again shows what a
stunner of a young actress she is as a cop whose suspicions start to grow more
and more by the minute.
Directed with a sharp, powerful impact by Christopher Nolan, Insomnia
is a dynamic thriller of Hitchcockian proportions, and ranks as one of the best
thrillers of recent years.
This is an absolute stunner on Blu-ray...from the opening aerial shots over a glacier to the chase that takes place in dense fog to the darkly lit interiors, every frame of this high definition transfer rings out with a remarkable clarity and crisp, vivid detail. Colors are beautiful and natural-looking throughout and no grain or compression effects mar the presentation.
The DTS HD audio is surprisingly effective considering this isn't an action movie. The potency of the score and the ambience of certain tense scenes give it a sense of power and urgency. Spoken words are well-delivered, and everything is superbly balanced for maximum effect.
The Blu-ray contains two
commentaries, one with Christopher Nolan, and scene specific commentaries from
Hilary Swank, editor Dody Dorn, production designer Nathan Crowley,
cinematographer Wally Pfister, and screenwriter Hillary Seitz. Also featured are
four documentaries, “Day for Night: The Making of Insomnia”, “180: A
Conversation with Christopher Nolan and Al Pacino”, “In the Fog”, a
cinematography and production design featurette, and “Eyes Wide Open”, a
featurette including interviews with real life insomniacs. There is also an
additional scene, a trailer, and a photo gallery.
Insomnia might be considered the very rare exception in that it's a remake that surpasses an already good original. Christopher Nolan was the right man to helm this material, which was faithful to the source but elevated in terms of tension, drama and urgency. It's an absolute beauty on Blu-ray.