Northern exposure

Six days without sleep take their toll on a man's conscience.


directed by Christopher Nolan with Al Pacino, Robin Williams, and Hilary Swank opens May 24 at Metro, Oak Tree, Pacific Place, and others

THOUGH UNCONTRITE about Patch Adams, Robin Williams is nonetheless continuing a series of darker roles in what might be called atonement pictures. Death to Smoochy came first, while One Hour Photo arrives in August; here he plays a lonely, mediocre crime novelist stuck up in Alaska. No happier to be there is L.A. cop Dormer (Al Pacino), sent to investigate a 17-year-old girl's slaying. His partner (Martin Donovan) is even more glum, soon confessing that he'll cooperate with an internal affairs investigation that will likely ruin Dormer's long, acclaimed career.

In a short span of days, however, one killing leads to another, placing increasing strain on the sleepless Dormer, who complains about "the crazy light" that shines endlessly during the Alaskan summer. A sympathetic hotel manager (Maura Tierney) and eager local policewoman (Hilary Swank) provide little assistance to the ever more haggard looking veteran, whose single-handed sleuthing leads inevitably to Williams' character, Finch. "We're partners on this," insists Finch during a series of insinuating calls to Dormer, who has a certain problem—witnessed by Finch—that he doesn't want revealed.

You already know the secret to Insomnia if you saw the 1997 Norwegian original with Stellan Skarsg岤 in the Pacino role, and this remake isn't really a substantial improvement on that movie, although Memento director Christopher Nolan very capably jumps to the big leagues with the effort. It's not his script, and as Insomnia moves toward its inevitable conclusion, one wishes that Nolan might've taken more liberties with the material. We get some jarring flashbacks (eventually explained), but the film is basically a guilt-laced police procedural with heavyweight actors who, again, might've goosed up the usual cat-and-mouse material.

Pacino's professionalism is gratifyingly low-key and effective; you can see the man's sleep-deprived mind unraveling through his eyes. (Only once does he turn up the volume while grilling a lead, suddenly hitting on the words "gar-bage bags!" with random, cracked intensity.) Williams comes into view late, like the shark in Jaws, but to anemic effect. Finch is the whiniest, weakest killer imaginable; no wonder he lives like a celibate bachelor in his book-crammed apartment. He's no better at crime than crime novels, as Dormer scornfully reminds him, yet neither character achieves the depth or stature required to hold our attention. Wan, weary, and denatured, both crook and cop are too fundamentally familiar to waken Insomnia from its routine.

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