In Christopher Nolan’s remake of “Insomnia,” Detective Ellie Burr (Hillary Swank, “Boys Don’t Cry”) says, “A good cop can’t sleep because he’s missing a piece of the puzzle. And a bad cop can’t sleep because his conscience won’t let him.” Burr’s quip aptly sums up L.A. Det. Will Dormer (Al Pacino, who unquestionably deserves an Oscar nomination).
Dormer is a protypical good cop, save for a pending investigation by internal affairs in Los Angeles. So he and his partner, Eckhardt (Martin Donovan, “Malcolm X”), go to investigate the muder of a local 17-year-old girl in Nightmute, Alaska.
Once in Alaska, the baggy-eyed Dormer loses sleep when the sun refuses to stop shining. He develops insomnia, revealed brilliantly by slick director Nolan (“Memento”) via hallucinations and shots of Dormer awake before the alarm clock goes off in the morning.
As the local hotel keeper (Maura Tierney, “News Radio”) explains it, people are either born in Nightmute or they go there to hide. As Dormer and Eckhardt continue the investigation began by Burr and the other local detectives, the two partners have a falling out over the troubles in Los Angeles. Soon after, while chasing down a suspect in the murder, Dormer shoots his partner in the bright, hilly and snowy town. Was it on purpose?
Pacino is simply brilliant at portraying the methodical but troubled detective, one who inspired Burr through his casework. Dormer is a complex character, pushing Burr to investigate the shooting of Eckhardt while keeping secrets about the girl’s killer.
While Pacino has been, throughout his career, more often than not a master thespian, it was Robin Williams (as writer Walter Finch) who received more publicity for his darker role. Yet of his three dark roles this year (“One Hour Photo” and “Death to Smoochy”), this is by far his finest and meatiest role. Williams can indeed play serious characters without going over the top or falling face first into tearjerker roles. As the cunning Finch, he matches Pacino’s Dormer nearly blow for blow, leaving even Swank’s solid performance a bit in the background.
The DVD edition of this movie is a must, not only because the film will remain as one of the year’s 10 best, but also because of the extras. Director Nolan took an odd turn and did his commentary in the order which the scenes were filmed, so one might see the chilling conclusion first, folowed by a scene from earlier on. This is clever, but one should note this and wait until seeing the movie all the way through before listening to Nolan’s take on the filming of his third feature.
“Day for Night,” a documentary on the creation of the film, and “180 Degrees,” a surprisingly dull conversation between Pacino and Nolan, are less than adequate, but the amusing addition of “Eyes Wide Open,” a look at the world through insomniacs’ eyes, is solid. Interviews with doctors and suffering insomniacs is a welcome addition to an otherwise mediocre list of extras.
Just as the supporting cast of the film (including Nicky Katt, “Full Frontal”) helps keep the film from slowing down, the supporting extras on the DVD make this disc worthy of purchase.