Before Christopher Nolan's name was synonymous with big, high-concept sci-fi blockbusters but after the director's breakout hit Memento, he made Insomnia, an Alaska-set remake of the 1997 cult Norwegian thriller.
The film sees Al Pacino play an ageing detective who travels to Alaska to try and solve a murder case. After he mistakenly shoots his partner in the fog while following the killer, he attempts to cover up his blunder but he is soon blackmailed by the murderer. The lack of any sleep also starts to confuse the detective and his insomnia plays tricks with his memory. Insomnia was released the same year as One Hour Photo, a film which also starred Robin Williams in a creepy against-type role. The fact that the actor and comedian agreed to tackle two chilling characters in a row was a bold move which showed great versatility, especially since he did such a brilliant job in both movies.
And Death To Smoochy, of course.
Insomnia often gets forgotten as a Christopher Nolan movie and that's probably because there's no real gimmick to it and it's the director's most sober effort next to his first film Following. The film does have an unnerving atmosphere, though, with its beautiful yet isolated and treacherous setting complimenting Pacino's character's increasingly foggy mental state perfectly. Insomnia is a slow burn in the way that a lot of good (and sometimes boring) detective noirs are so your enjoyment of the film's pace will depend on if you like that type of thing or not. The film Brick would later tell its Raymond Chandler-esque story in a similar way.
Hilary Swank also stars in the film as a local cop and fan of Pacino's detective who slowly finds out that her hero is not all that perfect. The whole cast is spot-on but it's Robin Williams who is the revelation here giving a subtle, at times truly unsettling performance. Where the film does fall a little short, however, is right at the end when Nolan modifies the original's ending a little. Insomnia works as a whole but its last 5-10 minutes do feel a little rushed and anti-climactic, which is a shame especially after such a solid build-up.
This may not be Christopher Nolan's best or most memorable film but dismissing it would be ignoring a genuinely well put-together and nail-biting thriller. A lot of the director's trademark techniques are present here and Insomnia's overall tone and feel is quite unique for a Hollywood production so it's definitely worth seeing.
Try the original also.