Quickfire Review: Insomnia (2002)

Synopsis: Two Los Angeles homicide detectives are dispatched to an Alaskan town where the sun doesn’t set to investigate the methodical murder of a local teen.

My Take


Ask most people to name the film Christopher Nolan made before Batman Begins and the majority will say Memento. Such was the impressive nature of his mind bending debut and the box office impact of Batman it’s all to easy to forget that in between he quietly went about making his sophomore effort, Insomnia, a remake of the 1997 Norwegian film by the same name.

The reason most people wont name it is because most people didn’t see it. It was a critical hit but a commercial flop, grossing little over $5m from it’s $50m budget. A far cry from the multi-billion dollar box office takings of the Dark Knight trilogy. However, it was evidence enough of Nolan’s natural ability to create brooding tension and draw out palpable performances from his cast that gave Warner Bros the confidence to hand him the keys to reboot such a revered franchise as Batman.

Relocating the action from the Arctic Circle of Scandinavia to the equally remote and light soaked northern Alaskan mountains, Insomnia centers around two LAPD detectives (an on form Al Pacino and the ever reliable Martin Donovan) dispatched up north to help investigate the meticulous murder of a local teenage girl. Unable to sleep in the perpetual light, Pacino’s Det Will Dormer begins to struggle with his concentration. His insomnia eventually catches up with him while chasing the suspected killer and the consequences of his actions begin to haunt him in the Alaskan midnight sun as sleep becomes a distant memory.

While not his strongest work Insomnia is still an engaging and beautifully shot, constructed and paced cat-and-mouse thriller. There are also one or two set pieces that stand out, in particular a nail biting chase across a river of moving logs. It is the performances from his two leads, Pacino and Williams though that elevate Insomnia above your average thriller. Pacino makes you feel tired and weary just watching him struggle. By the end he looks like he hasn’t slept for the entire production. It’s a nice reminder of when he didn’t do films like Jack & Jill. Williams is also brilliantly creepy as the delusional suspect. I just wish he did more drama, because when he does he does it so well.

Conclusion: A beautifully shot and solidly structured thriller that is worth watching to see how Nolan was developing his talents before Batman fired him into the stratosphere. Also nice to be reminded of when Pacino was still a tour de force.

Verdict: 7/10


Cast: Al Pacino, Robin WIlliams, Hilary Swank, Martin Donovan

4 replies »

    • Ha ha, that’s true. Although I often don’t think I know what I am talking about!! I think a lot of people found it slow but as a Nolan can I think I relish the opportunity to watch him at work for two hours. Maybe that clouds my objective judgement about it being a well paced film. Who knows. Many thanks for the comment though. I like the discussion more than the writing to be honest!!

    • Thanks dude! I watched Glengarry Glen Ross again the other day as well, just to remind myself of how good Pacino can really be. I think I might watch Heat tonight just to really hammer it home

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