I’m working my way through director’s filmographies this year. Christopher Nolan is a director of which I am extremely fond. Insomnia was one of two of his films I hadn’t seen and both are on Netflix. This film definitely has Nolan’s taste for a twist. I give Insomnia the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.
Los Angeles homicide detectives Will Dormer (Al Pacino) and Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan) are sent to Alaska to help with a murder investigation. The sun never sets in this town and Dormer finds it extremely disorienting paired with mounting pressure from Internal Affairs over his past work.
There are repeating images that open the film. The close up of white fabric with blood spreading across it. It’s cut in between shots of a snow covered rocks as the plane carrying our detectives flies over. It’s an image that will show up repeatedly throughout the film, but the meaning isn’t clear till much later. I really love how Nolan tells a story visually and this film is no exception.
Al Pacino plays Dormer perfectly. He is great at what he does, but clearly on edge about it. He has a clear idea of what he thinks of criminals and the moral compass he uses to guide him. Even if it’s conflicting. Hilary Swank plays the young cop, Ellie Burr, who is super enthusiastic about her job and her own moral compass. The way these two characters interact and stories intertwine are extremely compelling. She knows his cases because she studied them at the academy. She idolizes him, but she, much like us, doesn’t know everything.
Potential spoilers to follow, but Robin Williams plays a bad guy, Walter Finch, in this film. It really isn’t a spoiler because he basically admits to being the killer immediately. His story is more about his connection to Dormer. He witnessed Dormer do what was presumably an accident. Finch then noticed Dormer cover up the accident pinning it on him. The two enter a high stakes cat and mouse type interaction that forces Dormer into an odd alliance. Burr starts to unravel Dormer’s lies, but it seems slightly like he pushed her in that direction.
Final thoughts on Insomnia
Insomnia, like many of Nolan’s other films, will likely get better under deeper scrutiny. I usually start to notice details that I missed out on. In some of his films, looking at The Dark Knight Rises, the scrutiny finds plot holes. I’m hoping that Insomnia holds up a little bit better. I definitely enjoyed this film and look forward to his future directing endeavours.