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on March 10, 2003
Insomnia is of course a remake of a Norwegian film starring Stellan Skarsgard, directed by Erik Skjoldbjaerg in 1997 but as much as this may make me a heathen to European film culture, I must confess to having never seen the original. However, thanks to one of my good friends (Steve, take a bow) I was lucky enough to see the UK premier of Insomnia as the closing movie of the 2002 Edinburgh film festival and lucky enough to see and hear the Director Christopher Nolan say a few words about this fine movie.
Opening with incredibly stunning cinematography of Alaskan ice fields, haggard L.A police detective Will Dormer (Al Pacino) and his partner Hep Eckhart (Martin Donovan) arrive in America's most northerly city to help solve the brutal killing of a teenage girl. Met by a local Detective (Hilary Swank) who openly hero-worships Dormer and his successful career as a Detective, Pacino's character sets about showing the local hicks how it's done. However, it soon transpires that Dormer is only in Alaska in the first place to avoid an ongoing criminal investigation by police Internal Affairs back in Los Angeles and it is not long before his investigation into the Alaskan girl's murder goes horribly wrong. Troubled by his conscience and the never-ending daylight of an Alaskan summer Dormer prays for sleep.
For many people that have seen either of Christopher Nolan's previous two movies (Following and Memento) Insomnia may seem like an odd choice; it's a 'mainstream' Hollywood movie (Warner Brothers studio), it is told in a linear timeframe and it's a remake. However, there must have been obvious attractions apart from the budget and his paycheck. First off, Stephen Soderbergh, who successfully makes mainstream movies with an Indie heart, oversaw production and secondly there was the chance to work with great actors such as Pacino, Swank and Robin Williams, although at this point I have to add that I believe Williams was totally miscast and made an unconvincing villain.
There are some wonderful scenes in this movie, including a nightmare like chase over hundreds of floating logs and the hunt for the killer in a freezing fog. It is also a movie that allows it's stars to shine and this is undoubtedly Pacino's best role (and best movie for many a year) and it is a pleasant change to see him with a decent script in an intelligent movie instead of hamming it up in the likes of The Devil's Advocate, alongside walking surfboard Keanu Reeves. This movie will also undoubtedly and deservedly enhance the careers and reputations of both Director Christopher Nolan and Hilary Swank, who both produce work of depth and subtlety. However, I also feel that much of the credit for what is a beautiful photographed and well-written movie should go to Wally Pfister and (for what is an excellent adapted screenplay) to Hilary Seitz. Insomnia is an excellent movie made by a very modest, very talented young British movie Director. Be warned though, you probably need an IQ to fully appreciate it.
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on May 10, 2013
I am a huge Chris Nolan fan because of his cerebral story-telling. Possibly my favorite director (along with Danny Boyle).
The blu-ray version of insomnia is a must have for any potential film makers out there who want to listen and learn from the best.
There is a Chris Nolan commentary track that you HAVE to check out. The track reorders the film into the actual shooting schedule so you get a real feel of what it is to shoot a Hollywood film. Chris Nolan gives an incredible amount of detail about the choices he made, why he likes to get the camera close to the actors (in particular, one phone scene with Al Pacino) and his relationship with Wally Phister (DOP), Nathan Crawley (Production Designer) and his editor (whose name eludes me, sorry) who understand the "Chris Nolan vision" and compliment it in every way.
I am a new filmaker myself and what I learned from watching the film itself and all the informative extras cannot be rivaled.
Anytime a Chris Nolan film is available with a directors commentary, I extremely recommend it (the following, memento)... Of course, that's if you're into "how the sausage is made," as opposed to just eating it blindly;)
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on June 23, 2013
I tell you I'm so blessed because,this movie is been out for so long and
never have i took the chance to see it,and oh my goodness what a stupid A**
i was to not have seen it, Christopher Nolan i just love you man,you just take
a simple concept of who dunnit and almost put it into a time capsule that would
make anyone eyes bulge with lack of sleep,now if for some reason you say you
don't like this movie,well you're a complete A** like me for not watching in the first place
I sound like Blake Shelton on the Voice.
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on August 20, 2007
i didn't like this movie too a matter of fact,it nearly put me
to's that for irony.the movie is basically about murder which
occurs in a small Alaskan town.two big city cops are sent to
investigate.the twist to this movie.the sun doesn't set,which throws
everything out of whack for the detectives and complicates their
investigation.Robin Willima is in this one,in another darker role for
him.Al Pacino,Hilary Swank and Martin Donovan also star.there's nothing
wrong with the acting,but the movie is much to methodical,as it slowly
plods from one clue(or non clue) to the i said earlier,i had a
heck of a time staying awake with this one.Christopher Nolan directed
this movie,but he cannot be blamed for this one.the writing is the
culprit here.i suspect,it looked good on paper and even while they were
filming,but somehow the end product doesn't seem to work.i think they
tried really hard with this one,but sometimes things just don't work
out the way you planned.this is not a horrible film,but it's just
missing something.i give "Insomnia" 2.5/5 for the effort.
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on May 23, 2004
Director: Christopher Nolan.
Cast: Al Pacino, Robin Williams, Hillary Swank, Maura Tierney, Martin Donovan, Nicky Katt.
Running Time: 118 minutes.
Rated R for violence, language, and brief nudity.
As if Hitchcock woke from the dead and decided to make one last film so his soul could finally rest, he would have made a film very similar to "Insomnia". Although Christopher Nolan is certainly no Hitchcock, this intense suspense-thriller possesses the some of the qualities that make a true classic. The story winds through the nightless town of Nightmute, Alaska, where LAPD detective Will Dormer (played by Al Pacino is an only par performance) investigates a troubling serial killer case. When the investigation takes a sudden, twisting turn, Dormer not only is in pursuit of a killer, but is up against the sleepless psychological trauma that is disrupting his every move.
As Dormer gets closer and closer to the truth, he comes across a startlingly eerie author (Robin Williams), who happens to have vital information about concerning one of the victim's death. As Dormer becomes more involved with the author, his paranoia grows increasingly unstable. Williams steals the show throughout the second half of the film, portraying the role with ease; a haunting character that must have crept mightily out of his soul. Hillary Swank is a some-what misused rookie officer who is one step behind Dormer in solving the case and her peformance is only fair.
Director Nolan uses the excellent Hilary Seitz to his advantage, plotting Dormer's fears and ambitions, tooling Pacino and Williams's characters in a battle of good and evil, yet the good and the evil are presented in an enigmatic, vague fashion that will keep viewers guessing. Entertaining, thrilling, and moderately scary--Hitchcock would have been pretty proud.
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on May 3, 2004
I would never give Insomnia a definition - a thriller yet sunshine set, a cat-and-rat game yet also rat-jolts-cat, a cruelty murder line yet faded in the psycho confusion. Everything in Insomnia seemed to free out the stereotypes as it's supposed to be. Things of this kind can always be boring and pale if not for atmospheric direction and top-notch performances.
Starring three Oscar winners, Insomnia follows its artistic pacing without losing any commercial attraction. Al Pacino, a top favourite of mine, is prominent again as a sleep-losing yet conscionable veteran cop, occasionally losing his mind but never losing his heart. Robin Williams, gives a convincing flick of a devil shielded with a writer's position. He's shrewd and almost controlling before you, yet fragile and vulnerable behind. The only regret is that the character was reduced at it's screenplay level, with only forty minutes screen time. Williams leads the role as a dominant yet also an undercurrent, with a dark impact, which was insinuated in the endless shining set and Al Pacino's progressive sleeplessness.
Beyond these two men's insomnia circle, Swank, portrayed an idolizing yet astute enough young cop, timely refreshing you and rightfully-oriented when you are becoming fatigued and confused with the two men's psychological battle. Slightly pale yet still lovable at the same time. Maura Tierney also lends a helping hand as the Hotel manager who sympathises with Pacino's character.
Director Chris Nolan covered all these twists with atmospheric directing, not showing off yet blatant which, normally seen in Hollywood thrillers, restrains story-telling and thought-evoking. He delivered a masterpiece which you can see many times without being bored.
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on February 18, 2016
"Insomnia" is one of those quietly excellent films that seems to have slipped through the cracks. This is peculiar, given a cast on Maura Tierney, Al Pacino and Robin Williams. In fact, the relative obscurity of this mystery is a mystery in itself.
Set in a small town in Northern Alaska, we find Al Pacino's character arriving from Los Angeles to help solve the murder of a schoolgirl. He's been asked to help by an old pal; A bit of a cloud is hanging over Pacino's head. What he never bargained on was the ceaseless daylight. THis keeps him from sleeping properly, or at all for days at a time. This aspect of the film lends a profoundly disturbing aspect to the story: we (and he) is never sure what time it is. Robin Williams is very effective in his role and does not overplay his hand. Tierney is as ever very persuasive in her role as the local detective in charge of the case. The 'Who' in this whodunnit is quickly revealed. What remains obscure, even until the end, is the why. Is it so important, though, in this strange tale. The light, again does not conceal but rather seems to place reality at a remove, and effective camera, lighting and direction brings this element to a fine edge. I was reminded of Hitchcock at moments; not so much for any particular style or trick, but because of the element of place. Hitchcock often used 'place' or location to great effect in molding his suspense. Location is used in "Insomnia" to very good effect.
If you are a collector of suspense film, satisfying productions with fine acting, or just a fan of any of the actors, I would certainly make room for "Insomnia". It is one of those films you'll pull out for a friend, and want to watch again every year or so in any event.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon June 30, 2015
I'm really glad I watched the Norwegian version of Insomnia (1997) first. The 2002 remake pretty much stuck to the same script, but with a few different angles. The opening of the 2002 I found much more commanding. You really saw and appreciated the isolation, ice-capped mountains, dense forests and fogs of northern Norway, more so than in the original. And I liked that in the American version, the suspect had dogs; that was a nice touch — made it a bit more likely that his story about it being an accident was more likely true, at first anyway.

TO GO WITH STORY TITLED INSOMNIA--Al Pacino and Hillary Swank in Alcon EntertainmentÕs suspense-thriller ÒInsomnia.Ó (AP Photo/ Warner Bros. Pictures).

I think when I watched the original with the subtitles, I missed some of the nuances about the problems the Inspector was having with internal affairs, in the States in the 2002 version. This is why he has so much trouble with the accidental shooting of his partner — he seems uncertain, himself, as to whether it was an accident or not. And the lady cop, played by Hilary Swank in the American version, has a much more important role in the story — all the way through but especially at the end, which was different.

Actors Al Pacino (L) and Robin Williams are shown in a scene from their new suspense thriller film "Insomnia," also starring Hilary Swank. Pacino portrays a Los Angeles police detective assigned to help solve a murder in Alaska. The film opened May 24, 2002 in the United States. (NO SALES) REUTERS/Warner Bros./Handout

It's quite prophetic when Inspector Dormer (Al Pacino) is looking at the body of the victim in the morgue and says, "He crossed the line with this one. You don't come back from that." It's not only prophetic for the killer, Walter Finch (Robin Williams in one of his more serious and sinister roles) but also for himself. He, too crosses the line, but at the very end he succeeds in coming back from it — only just.

There was quite a bit of abusive sex in the original that was left out in the remake, but the remake had its share of foul language. The shack in the newer movie was in a much more isolated place that made it more believable, I thought, as a place of privacy for clandestine meetings, and I liked the way the tip-off to the suspect came from an accidental squeal from a megaphone. Also, the differences between the partners from Los Angeles (Pacino and Martin Donovan) was much more visible, which lent itself to the question of whether the shooting was really accidental or not, and Pacino hallucinates during the search, thinking he sees his partner as one of the searchers. Nice touch!

All in all, I think I preferred the American remake but I'm glad I watched both. The foreign one was interesting, partly because of the actors being unknown to me, but I thought the American one, perhaps with a bigger budget, showed the setting off better and I liked the changes to the script — especially the ending. Absolutely amazing!
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Out of all the movies Christopher Nolan has directed, "Insomnia" is probably the most... normal. No dream technology, no superheroes, no magical Tesla devices.

No, "Insomnia" is pretty much a cop thriller about hunting down a murderer. But it's much deeper and more layered than it sounds -- it's a tragic, haunting story of a good cop who begins sliding inexorably down, until he ends up collaborating with a murderer. And in true Nolan style, it's murky and slightly disorienting.

LAPD detectives Will Dormer (Al Pacino) and Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan) are sent to the remote town of Nightmute, up in Alaska, to investigate the shocking death of a teenage girl. There's some tension between the detectives because Dormer is under investigation by Internal Affairs, and Eckhart is going to testify against him.

And since Nightmute is in the Arctic Circle, the sun never sets in summer. Unable to sleep, Dormer becomes increasingly disoriented -- until he accidentally shoots Eckhart while chasing the murderer.

Knowing that no one would believe it was an accident, Dormer desperately hides the evidence of his crime. But there was one witness to the shooting -- the murderer, mystery writer Walter Finch (Robin Williams). Finch is only willing to keep silent if Dormer frames the dead girl's boyfriend, and lets him go free.

Based on a Norwegian film of the same name, "Insomnia" is essentially a study of guilt. It's never entirely clear whether Dormer's insomnia is caused by the daylight (symbolic light of truth?) or his own guilty conscience, but the events of the movie are a tragic portrait of a fundamentally good man degenerating before our eyes.

And it's one of the best roles that Al Pacino has done in years -- he depicts Dormer as a man who desperately wants to do the right thing, but is twisted into doing the WRONG thing out of his own fear. And Nolan leaves you wondering if, on some subconscious level, he did want to shoot his partner for betraying him.

And if Dormer is in the middle of the moral spectrum, then Finch and Ellie Burr are on the two extremes. I normally cannot stand Robin Williams, but he gives a surprisingly good performance as a genial yet ice-cold murderer who wants to drag Dormer down with him. And Hilary Swank is excellent as a pure-hearted young cop who is investigating Eckhart's murder.

As for Nolan, he cloaks the movie in a sense of stillness and a pale, strange daylight that never goes away, and he builds up a slow-burning sense of suspense right to the subdued ending. This makes it all the more shocking when Dormer's sleeplessness catches up to him, causing him to act recklessly and even hallucinate -- suddenly the world seems jagged and chaotic for a few minutes, before snapping back to normal.

In fact, the movie is at its weakest when it focuses just on police procedural stuff, instead of following Dormer's descent. Even if those scenes are essential to the plot, Nolan cannot make that interesting.

While not exactly what people expect from Christopher Nolan, "Insomnia" is a beautifully tragic little movie, with amazing acting and exquisite direction.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon October 19, 2010
I love Christopher Nolan and the filmmaking is first-rate even in this more formulaic type of movie. Basically, it's a thriller but the setting in Alaska in the always daylight summertime there makes the movie what it is.

Now I'm not a big fan at all of Hilary Swank (sorry, those gigantic teeth and her being Steve Sanders' annoying girlfriend at one point on "Beverly Hills, 90210" just can never be erased from my brain) or Robin Williams on the big screen but I at least found them tolerable and believable in this. Meaning they must be good actors for me to overcome my completely prejudiced views of their whole body of work.

Anyway, in no way shape or form is this anywhere near as great as Inception, Memento or Following which both contain the same sort of themes of playing with time and people's perceptions of time as well as using the location as really a major part of the film. Throw in the whole Nolan obsession with the human mind and that's where Insomnia is at. Problem is it's at its base level this is still a murder mystery of which way too much gets revealed at the start when Al Pacino shoots his fellow cop accidentally on purpose early in the movie. Don't worry it's not a spoiler as the audience sees and knows this on screen very early in the flick.

I would say it is worth watching but I think it suffers mainly in comparison to Nolan's other majestically brilliant work. Taken on its own, it's a decent almost film noir in some ways and well worth seeing even if it doesn't stack up to Nolan's other films.
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