A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Insomnia

June 29, 2010

Insomnia

A couple odd coincidences tonight. We pretty much drew this movie at random from our collection to watch this evening and it just happens to be our second remake in two days and our second Robin Williams movie this week. I’ll admit that I didn’t know much about this movie before I started watching it tonight. I knew the basic premise – Al Pachino is a hardened detective in Alaska, Hilary Swank is the brilliant rookie who idolises him and Robin Williams is his prime suspect. I knew it was a taut psychological thriller. What I didn’t know, or had somehow forgotten, was that this was directed by Christopher Nolan.

Now that we’ve finally watched this movie I have to say I think it’s the best thing I’ve seen Al Pachino in a long, long time. Maybe one time he was a powerful legitimate actor, but I have lately come to associate him with crazy over-acting. He’s the devil in Devil’s Advocate. He’s the megalomaniacal nemesis Willy Bank in the third Ocean movie. He’s a coke-snorting crazy fiend with a little friend. He’s Shakespeare’s Semitic villain. It was refreshing to see him in a more restrained and intense role. Make no mistake – this is his movie.

Pachino is Detective Will Dormer. His boss in LA has sent him up to help out with a murder investigation in Alaska – mostly to get Will and his partner Hap out of the city because Internal Affairs is causing heads to roll back home and Will is a tempting target for a ball buster looking to make political points. He has a long career of catching slimeballs and he worries that if IA were to concentrate on taking him down all his past victories would be undone.

Amanda and I watch a lot of procedural crime shows on TV. Mostly Criminal Minds these days. So there’s a certain familiarity to the notion of the a couple veteran detectives flying in to help out the locals with an unusual case. The twist is that this movie is not just about catching the criminal. It’s about a detective torn apart by the compromises he’s had to make to catch the perps he knows are guilty. Things get far worse for him when Will accidentally shoots his own partner while attempting to capture his suspect – his partner who was getting ready to play along with the Internal Affairs detectives in LA.

It is mid-summer in northern Alaska, and the sun never sets. It just circles the horizon, providing twenty-four hour light. As the action in the movie progresses Detective Dormer is unable to sleep at all and slowly begins to lose his mind. Through some questionable police work he’s able to uncover the identity of the killer, but the killer knows what happened to Dormer’s partner and is threatening to destroy Will’s career if he’s brought in. It becomes a cat and mouse battle of wills, with Dormer’s very soul on the line.

It’s great to see Robin Williams in a completely serious role after the insanity of his performance in Aladdin. As the killer Walter Finch he is all cold calculation and sinister betrayal. He’s a worthy adversary for the sleep-deprived Will, and it’s a role for an accomplished actor at the top of his game. Williams provides just the right combination of smarmy and desperate. Finch sees himself as less of a rival for Dormer and more of a fellow killer. They have both inadvertently taken a life and both gone to great lengths to cover it up. How, then, can Dormer claim the moral high ground?

As soon as I saw Nolan’s name on the box I started to really look forward to this movie. I had heard some about it before but didn’t really know what to expect. What I got was an intense, sometimes disturbing look at how fighting crime can make somebody into a criminal – how constant exposure to that world can harden a man and corrupt his sense of right and wrong. This movie is gorgeous, powerful and contains some of the best acting of both Williams and Pachino’s careers. It makes me look forward to watching it with my mother-in-law, who is also a big mystery and procedural crime drama fan.

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June 29, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. I haven’t seen this version (though I see it is playable instantly on Netflix so I will see it soon) but I have seen the Norwegian/Swedish original. I wish I remembered more about it. Maybe Nolan didn’t have the freedom to do one of his signature puzzles.

    Comment by Doc Wheat | July 1, 2011 | Reply


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