The cocky hunter, suddenly scared of his prey, becomes haggard, unable to sleep in the midnight sun.


An Illusion review by Joan Ellis

                Insomnia is director Christopher Nolanís follow-up film to last yearís breakout independent hit Memento.  Itís safe by now to say that a Nolan film is likely to be interesting; itís also a safe bet that it will be blood soaked. 

                As the movie opens, a seaplane swoops and soars above the spectacular Alaskan wilderness.  It is carrying Will Dormer and Hap Eckhart, two Los Angeles detectives assigned to help solve a gruesome murder of a seventeen-year-old girl.  Will and Hap are greeted at the dock by Ellie Burr (Hilary Swank), the local rookie detective who will be their assistant and guide. 

                Zapping clues into place in the crime puzzle, Will blends savvy intuition with the years of experience that are etched on his rutted face.  This is a killer, he says, who ďcrossed the line and didnít even blink.Ē   Al Pacino, unleashed as Will, is terrific as the urban detective with a past. 

                Fifty minutes into the movie, we are still caught up in the excitement of watching the fiery Will when a call comes from the killer, Walter Finch (Robin Williams).  Finch is calling with information that can destroy Willís career.  The emboldened killer and the stricken cop are now on a level playing field.  As good as Mr. Williams is as the villain, and he is weirdly perfect, the sudden plot turn takes the punch out of Pacinoís performance.  The cocky hunter, suddenly scared of his prey, becomes haggard, unable to sleep in the midnight sun.  He is diminished. 

                Still, this movie is a cerebral cat and mouse game with great 1940s-style overtones.  We feel the same eerie fear we suffered when watching police search through the London fog for Jack the Ripper.  Score a ten for atmosphere as Will scrambles over rocks and walks down the main street of a shabby, small town that must have sprung up in answer to the needs of settlers drawn to the overwhelming landscape. 

                Alaska may be majestic, but with this music, under these circumstances, the town that bills itself as The Halibut Capital of the World, is bleak and desolate.  But the bones of the place are filmed with power:  logs rolling in their watery field, a ferry, an isolated cabin, a breath-stopping waterfall that seems to fall from the sky. 

                Performances?  Hilary Swank is a touch too eager and smiling as the adoring acolyte, though she improves rapidly when the going gets tough.  Maura Tierney, with a quiet strength and inner calm, steals all the scenes she is given, and should have had more.   

Toward the end, the filmmakers cave in yet again to the Hollywood mantra that the public wants blood and gore.   The movie becomes distractingly, unnecessarily violent.  Just as we are gripped by the final battle of wits between cop and killer, we are repelled by a bay of blood.  Robin Williams, newly minted as a psychopath, and Al Pacino, at his canny best, need no special effects at all. 


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