review for Insomnia on AllMovie

Insomnia (2002)
by Derek Armstrong review

Given the narrative daring of Christopher Nolan's unique breakthrough Memento, cinephiles may have expected the director to revolutionize the detective/psycho genre with Insomnia, his remake of the 1997 Norwegian film. Instead, Nolan simply produced a superior example of that form, remarkably straightforward in its approach, which may prove he's positioned to transform cinema as a mainstream product as well as an independent one. In organizing a large budget and a trumpeted cast of Oscar winners into a critically acclaimed hit, Nolan proved his crossover accessibility and gave the world a crime drama with enough style and complexity to stand out. Logically, a film noir set entirely in daylight should struggle to create mood, but Insomnia uses the stark Alaskan landscape to generate the senses of physical and psychological isolation common to that genre. The locale also enables some dynamite sequences, particularly the foot race across floating logs that serves as a centerpiece. Al Pacino's performance is a tour de force; Nolan enhances the actor's bleary-eyed wariness by splicing in dizzy visual flashes and the persistent haunting images that prevent sleep. Robin Williams gives an understated performance, not the "serial killer" some press outlets dubbed him, rather an ordinary man who crosses a line and then slouches toward instability while covering it up. The perky earnestness of Hilary Swank's character somewhat masks her good performance, but she is doing subtle work, too, her hero worship gradually deteriorating into a jaded loss of innocence. Not all plot elements work or justify their inclusion, but that's one of the few missteps by this accomplished piece of popular filmmaking.