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

    The Five-Year Engagement

    Jason Segel and Emily Blunt are Tom and Violet, a happy couple whose plans to marry become increasingly hopeless. Co-starring Chris Pratt and a host of sit-com favourites, expect sincerely romantic moments amongst Segel's signature frat boy humour.

    On Film4: 4 Aug 9:00PM

  • Film4

    Maidan

    Documentary portrait of the winter 2013/14 Ukrainian demonstrations in Kiev against the pro-Moscow presidency of Viktor Yanukovych and for a greater integration with Europe.

  • Channel 4 Blog

    Guests announced for Film4 FrightFest 2015

    Barbara Crampton, Rick Wakeman, James Cosmo, Toyah Willcox, Neil Marshall and Bernard Rose amongst dazzling array of guests set to re-animate FrightFest... Scream Queen legend Barbara Crampton is F

  • Channel 4 Blog

    Toby Amies on The Man Whose Mind Exploded

    Ahead of the TV premiere of The Man Whose Mind Exploded, Film4.com editor Michael Leader speaks with director Toby Amies about his fascinating documentary about the friendship he forged with the colou

Register with Film4.com

Personalise your Film4 experience

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

or Register

Share