Viewing your Watchlist and recommended content requires Javascript

  • 15
  • Mystery, Thriller
  • 2002
  • 118 mins

Insomnia

Insomnia

Synopsis

A re-make of Norwegian director Erik Skjoldbjærg's 1997 thriller from the maker of Memento, Christopher Nolan. Al Pacino plays an LA cop wracked by guilt after he accidentally kills his partner while hunting the killer of a teenage girl

About

How do you follow a film as remarkable as 2000's Memento? If you're writer-director Christopher Nolan, you take a leap of faith. Entering into the $50 million budget range, the English-American director has crafted a beguiling Hollywood thriller that not only satisfies commercial concerns but furthers Nolan's exploration of themes first studied in his debut 1998's Following and elaborately staged in Memento.

Eliciting classy performances from the principal players, Nolan adapts to not only the pressures of studio filmmaking but to working from another's script - in this case, one written by debut scribe Hillary Seitz, based on the 1997 Norwegian film of the same name (scripted by Nikolaj Frobenius and Erik Skjoldbjærg).

Having transferred the action to Alaska, Nolan retains the original film's conceit of a cop - in this case Will Dormer (Pacino) - caused sleepless nights by the Midnight Sun, as well as the guilt from his accidental or otherwise murder of his colleague Hap Eckhart (Donovan), here set during a stunning sequence enshrouded in fog.

Pacino's craggy face is suited for expressing insomnia, and his accomplished, nuanced performance is his best work for years. Swank, as the keen local rookie cop Ellie Burr, makes the best of a thankless role, while Williams - exposed quickly as the teenage girl's killer, Walter Finch - is a revelation, giving an understated, creepy turn.

On first look, Insomnia appears as traditional as Memento was radical. Nolan's first linear narrative (albeit one written by Seitz), it is more gentle on the audience than his previous efforts. Yet, on closer inspection, the films cross wires. Both deal with a man whose physical state (be it sleep-deprivation or memory loss) is an expression of his mental anguish (in both cases, guilt). Again, Nolan appears interested in rescuing a genre - not the revenge thriller this time, but the cop movie - from the clichés that filmmakers so often resort to. As for Nolan's collaborators, David Julyan's scratchy electronic score recalls his work for Memento, as does Wally Pfister's claustrophobic photography and Dody Dorn's sleek editing.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Nicky Katt, Robin Williams, Hilary Swank, Paul Dooley, Maura Tierney, Al Pacino, Martin Donovan
  • Director: Christopher Nolan
  • Writer: Hillary Seitz
  • Producer: Edward L McDonnell, Paul Junger Witt, Broderick Johnson, Andrew A Kosove
  • Photographer: Wally Pfister
  • Composer: David Julyan

In a nutshell

Not as audacious as Memento, Christopher Nolan's first studio feature is nevertheless a confident and intelligent thriller that demonstrates a canny ability to fuse his own concerns with guilt, subjective experience and narrative to a mainstream package.

Latest from Film4...

  • Film4

    Baggage Claim

    Paula Patton stars in writer-director David E Talbert's romcom about a woman's desperate hunt to find herself a husband.

  • Film4

    Metallica: Through The Never

    Director Nimród Antal and cinematographer Gyula Pados blend fact and fiction as they capture an obscure live Metallica concert in North America.

  • Channel 4 Blog

    Cannes 2016: 10 Picks

    Film4.com site editor and festival newbie Michael Leader selects ten films from the Official Selection at this year's Cannes Film Festival that he can't wait to see... Go easy on me, I'm new around t

  • Channel 4 Blog

    Cannes 2016: 10 picks

    Catherine Bray runs her eye over this year¿s line-up and selects ten films she can¿t wait to watch at the 69th Cannes Film Festival The official line-up is now locked and loaded, so time to have a ru

Register with Film4.com

Personalise your Film4 experience

  • Set film reminders
  • Build your watchlist
  • Get film suggestions

or Register

Share