a critiQal film review Insomnia (2002)

Plot: LA cops Will Dormer (Pacino) and Hap Eckhart (Donovan) are sent to Nightmute, Alaska to investigate the horrific murder of a 17-year old girl. After covering up an accidental shooting death, Dormer falls into a deep web of lies and deceit with mystery writer Walter Finch (Williams). His thinking marred by the 24-hour daylight, Dormer struggles to find his way out, and avoid local cop Ellie Burr’s (Swank) questions.

505 words (Est. Reading Time 2m 31s)
  • ...A miscast Robin Williams helps to make this film not worth losing too much sleep over.

I’d heard good things about the film Insomnia, so went in with higher than usual expectations. Added to the good reviews was the star power of Robin Williams and Al Pacino. How could Insomnia miss? Unfortunately, it did. But not by too much.

The actors portrayed their characters convincingly in Insomnia. Al Pacino was great (as usual) in his cop-on-the-edge role. He did seem to convey the lack of sleep to the viewer, without which the movie could not have survived. Without the lack of sleep, his actions would have been much clearer to him and the whole gist of the movie would have collapsed.

Robin Williams was a bit of a disappointment, though. He didn’t act the part, mostly due to his face. He looks too genial throughout most of the film, which could have worked, but didn’t.

It’s hard to disassociate Williams from comedy, after his plethora of comedic films (even after One Hour Photo). The filmmakers should have done something to change his appearance: a mustache, a beard, a scar, something. He also seemed a bit too jovial throughout, which detracted from the tension the film was trying to build.

Hilary Swank, on the other hand, exceeded my expectations. I wasn’t expecting much of her, true, but she surprised me with how she seemed to easily embrace the role.

The plot of Insomnia wasn’t bad. There was suspense, nice twists and turns and a climactic conclusion.

There were a few flaws, however. There wasn’t much of a buildup before the accidental shooting, for instance. A little more buildup to that, showing the characters interacting more, would have been nice. Rather than the surprise felt after the shooting, and the disbelief of the characters’ comments about the shooting, the viewer would have harbored suspicions from the get-go, and the gratuitous use of flashbacks later in the film would not have been needed.

Another flaw was the film’s blatant, and incessant, showing and/or explaining every plot point. For one, the whole insomnia angle. Sure it helps the film, and it’s the title, but does the movie have to hammer it home so much? We get it. We see him not sleeping. Does it have to be mentioned every 5 minutes? I think not. Give the viewer a little credit, will you?

The scenery of Insomnia was spectacular. With the snowy surroundings, the nice use of different colors brings the scene into sharp relief. For example, how clear would Dormer’s vehicle have stood out against the snow-covered rocks if it had been light gray instead of black? Nice to see the little things worked out like that.

In total, Insomnia, with the star power it had going for it, was a bit of a disappointment. The plot, the good acting, and the majestic scenery let it rise a little over your run-of-the-mill suspense thriller, though.

With a bit more character development coupled with a bit more subtlety, Insomnia could have been worth losing sleep over.

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