It's always nice to see a fine filmmaker such as Christopher Nolan successfully make the switch from independent to Hollywood filmmaking. First of all, it means reassurance for audiences that at least some quality will be headed to their multiplexes. Second of all, if their films make money, then maybe, just maybe, the studios will greenlight more pictures with the ambition of that particular filmmaker. We shall see what transpires, but for now, Christopher Nolan's "Insomnia" is a fine thriller and a perfect excuse to get out of the summer heat.
Detective Will Dormer (Al Pacino) is recruited to solve a murder in Nightmute, Alaska, where (at this time of year) the sun never sets. He goes not only because he is assigned, but also because he is pending investigation back home in L.A. led by a greedy co-worker; not something he wants to stick around for. Detective Ellie Burr (Hilary Swank), a long time fan of Dormer's, is assigned to work with him when a suspect is found in a remote cottage. While chasing him, Dormer accidentally shoots his partner. The suspect, Walter Finch (Robin Williams), sees it and blackmails Dormer. What does he want?
What sets "Insomnia" apart is how deeply it delves into the psychology of the situation. In most thrillers of this sort, the bad guy spills his guts once he is discovered, leaving little to the imagination; trivializing the entire nature of their crimes. It seems to me that any killer who feels the need to do this shouldn't be able to get away with stealing bubble gum from a convenience store. "Insomnia" is not so much about finding out who the killer is but about the minds of the cat and the mouse, and how they may not be as different as one would think. This is a theme in all of Christopher Nolan's films: taking a deceivingly simple premise and somehow placing the viewer inside the protagonist's (or possibly antagonist's) mind.
To be fair, I have never seen the 1997 original "Insomnia" on which this remake of the same name is based. However, one thing one cannot re-create is the impact of the talent involved. As I said before, Christopher Nolan is brilliant at placing us inside the minds of characters we can never fully comprehend. In this film, he uses his talent for integrating location into the fabric of the story to get us there. You can almost feel the mist, almost smell the trees, and the emotional claustrophobia is very real. The endless day of Nightmute is masterfully orchestrated, slowly closing in on Dormer; intruding in on him, choking him as circumstances get worse and worse.
For the most part, "Insomnia" is a clever and effective thriller. Unfortunately, when it is time for the film to reach a conclusion, it cops out (pun most definitely intended). All the tension that has been built up between Dormer and Finch; all of the torment that Dormer has gone through is dropped. The film sets it's characters up so that they will have to face their problems and maybe even be taken down by them, but it takes the easy way out, settling for a standard, over-sensationalized ending. Why can't films these days have the patience to carry themselves all the way across the finish line?
Ending notwithstanding, "Insomnia" is one of the better thrillers this summer. As a remake, it is plenty unique and has enough merit that one does not have to see the original to realize that it stands on it's own. And now that Christopher Nolan has bigger budgets at his disposal, I simply cannot wait to see the next trick he has up his sleeve.