Prayer Focus
Movie Review


MPAA Rating: R for language, some violence and brief nudity.

Reviewed by: Ryan Hartsock and Matthew A. Markakis

Very Offensive
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1 hr. 52 min.
Year of Release:
Hilary Swank in “Insomnia” Al Pacino in ‘Insomnia’ Robin Williams in “Insomnia”

Starring: Al Pacino, Hilary Swank, Robin Williams, Martin Donovan, Nicky Katt | Directed by: Christopher Nolan | Produced by: Edward L. McDonnell, Andrew A. Kosove, Broderick Johnson, Paul Junger Witt | Written by: Hillary Seitz | Distributor: Warner Brothers

“Insomnia” is a beautiful film in many regards, dealing with the picturesque landscape of Alaska, the human psyche and its defense mechanisms, and the idea of what is truth and its long-term value.

The plot focuses on Will Dormer (Al Pacino in one of his best performances), a veteran LAPD homicide detective and his partner Hap (Martin Donovan), who are sent to a remote village in northern Alaska to investigate the murder of a seventeen year old girl. For both detectives, it’s a welcome break from an Internal Affairs investigation back in L.A. in which Will is accused of planting evidence to seal the conviction of a child molester/murderer and Hap is scheduled to testify once they return. Will and Hap arrive during “White Nights” (a time in which the sun never sets on parts of Alaska). This also becomes a very powerful metaphor for Will’s inability to escape feelings of guilt for the past mistakes that now jeopardize his entire career. Just as we cannot find true peace and comfort until we come into the light of God’s grace through Jesus Christ. These same feelings of guilt also lead to his prolonged period of sleeplessness, hence the title, which is effectively presented by director Christopher Nolen.

On the surface it’s is a rather routine cop murder mystery, but below the surface there lies a tense and complex web of human drama. A community dealing with death… Dormer (Pacino) dealing with his own deep-seated issues… Ellie (Swank) dealing with disappointment in an idol… and Finch (Williams) dealing with crossing the line between thought and action. Almost all characters are out-of-balance and seeking for clarity in the unending daytime of the north.

The proking theme presented in “Insomnia” is the idea of truth and its consequences. There are two sides presented: (1) The humanist worldview of doing what appears to be right at the moment things are happening. A hotel hostess beautifully spells out this view in a dialogue with Pacino. All the characters save one use this philosophy for their guidance, yet all of them find themselves in murky ambiguities and unforeseen consequences. (2) The other view, although not necessarily Christian, has legitimate merit and close ties with the Christian worldview of truth as the victor over lies. In the end, Pacino’s character sees the value of the truth no matter the consequence. He has told lies throughout the story (as well as Williams) to cover up the truth and now sees that the lies have caused far more damage than the truth would have if told in the first place.

Viewers should be careful of some strong language, violence, and brief corpse nudity. (The naked body of a corpse is shown for approximately two seconds in a non-sexual way). This is an offensive film and only to be watched by a mature and discriminating viewer. Pacino, Williams, Swank, and Nolan all provide a welcome diversion from the usual popcorn fare summer movie’s provide. In a world where dishonesty has become the ladder of success and secrecy the norm in the minds of millions of people, “Insomnia” portrays the torment that everyone faces when they practice lying, cheating, and secrecy.

Viewer Comments
Positive—Worth watching though it could have been better. “Insomnia” seems to miss its thriller potential in the stark spooky Alaskan wilderness. Should have been scarier for its genre, but an interesting story and good acting nonetheless. Some gruesome murder shots to fast forward.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 3½]
—Todd Adams, age 35
PositiveAl Pacino is such a great actor I always enjoy seeing him. Robin Williams was good, too, but the hero is Hilary Swank who doggedly pursues the truth. Oh how many times have we witnessed a coverup or been a part of one. This is an age old theme. Confession is good for the soul, but when is it used? You know every time Brer Rabbit tried to free himself from the Tar Baby, he got stuck worse. So it is with Pacino, who has lived an exemplary life as a police officer, but sinks to the abyss in his final case. Pacino had so many opportunities to come clean yet he went his own way. Ultimately, his sin found him out. Thankfully, he came clean at the end to two women, something that made me think about how much easier it is to tell our faults to our mothers and wives than to our human fathers.
My Ratings: [Average / 4]
—Mark L. Gilliam, age 40
Positive—This movie should be in the running for the Oscars. I’m surprised that other Christians are not seeing some of the important themes that emerge in this movie. For example, moviegoers are challenged to question the following statements: “The end justifies the means”; “Most people are basically good”; “I may compromise in small ways but it doesn’t really affect anyone.” I think these are some of the most important questions that can be asked of movie audiences in our culture. This movie truly unmasks some of the most repeated excuses people use—Christians and non-Christians alike—to avoid dealing with the truth. In some of the most unexpected ways, this movie reveals that the truth brings freedom.
My Ratings: [Average / 4½]
—Derek Taylor, age 29
Positive—It is always interesting to see how an independent or small budget director handles their first big budget studio film. Christopher Nolan, director of last year’s sleeper hit “Memento,” and the lesser known “Following,” manages to adjust to the slightly larger budget just fine. Although Insomnia is on a much grander scale than either of his other films, Nolan’s touch is apparent in this film as much as the others. It also helps to have a cast full of Academy favorites. Al Pacino portrays a detective struggling with a moral dilemna and Insomnia while trying to solve a murder, without ever letting his role come off as a gimick. Both Hilary Swank and Robin Williams also do a fantastic job in their roles with less backstory to work with. …Never has a film captured so well the agony of Insomnia. Anyone who has had this ailment before will understand what I mean. Much of the film is concentrated on the methods detectives take to catch a criminal and how it changes them as a person. This does not mean that there is not action. Although this is definitely a thinking film there is enough suspense to fill two average blockbusters. Insomnia does have many scenes of violence, some of which is very intense, but it never seems graphic or gory. Even the blood is kept to a minimum. The language can be a bit strong, though, and there is a scene where we see a nude corpse. Still “Insomnia” does not come off nearly as strong as most in this genre. Instead of relying on gory deaths to frighten the audience, it uses good old fashion suspense.
My Ratings: [Average / 4½]
—Ryan Izay, age 20
Positive—As someone who is offended fairly easily I was surprised that this “R” rated movie did not leave me feeling disturbed. There was a nude corpse shown in one scene but it was very brief and shown in a non-sexual way. Pacino was as amazing in this movie as he was in “Devil’s Advocate” (which was MUCH more offensive). Pacino plays a man who is basically good but makes one bad choice and has to spend the rest of his life (literally) covering it up. Williams was a very good choice for this character. He plays a fairly normal man who allows his lusts and desires to lead him to commit a violent crime. Then he doesn’t want to take responsibility for his actions and instead spends the rest of the movie trying to justify his actions. There was not a lot of blood in this movie. It didn’t scare me out of my wits or leave me with disturbing pictures in my mind. It was simply a very good lesson on where you’ll end up if you have no biblical boundaries on your life.
My Ratings: [Average / 4½]
—Terese, age 25
Negative—I was looking forward to Insomnia. With Robin Williams billed as the main character and out of his element of comedy in this film, I expected more. Though some of the characters were mildly interesting in their interactions, it just wasn’t enough to support the weak plot. Insomnia includes many swears, including frequent uses of the f-word. In addition, there is complete frontal nudity of a murder victim. It is brief, but shocking. The element I find most disturbing, however, is the ambiguous moral ground that each of the characters is forced to take as the film progresses. One begins to wonder if there is anything that is truly immoral or wrong, as long as it suits the needs of a given individual. [Eventually] you begin to see the real point of the movie, which is—will we really do anything in our quest for “survival of the fittest”? We see one bumble after another of people who planted evidence, committed murder, etc. and will do anything to cover their tracks, all the while dispensing “justice” as they see fit. I was particulary disappointed by the role of Walter Finch (Williams), and Ellie Burr (Hilary Swank), who played the main investigator alongside Pacino. Both have the potential to be excellent performers, and both were shown here in roles that were too weak to support them. The film is billed with Robin Williams as the star, in a completely new kind of role for him. In fact, he is only in about the final one-third of the movie. As I look into the moral morass that is our current culture, and the main focus of this film, I think of the most basic biblical principles—“thou shalt not kill,” and “thou shalt not bear false witness” (Exodus 20). Everyone knows them, but few are held to them, as media and spiritual compromise continually weaken the fiber of truth and righteousness in our society. Insomnia was a movie that put me to sleep. I literally had a hard time keeping my physical eyes open. My spiritual eyes, however, were once again challenged to search the scripture for truths—ones we won’t find in today’s movie theater.
My Ratings: [Extremely Offensive / 1½]
—Rhonda Westcott, age 35
Movie Critics
…At least 51 obscenities, including 34 f-words and 10 s-words, pollute the dialogue… little sexual content…
—Preview Family Movie and TV Review
…a fully nude female corpse [is seen]…
…With a poorly written and directed script, as well as a humanist worldview and intense foul language, even the stellar actors won’t be able to keep INSOMNIA’s audiences awake…
—Joseph L. Kalcso, Lisa Rice, Movieguide
Comments from young people
Positive—Insomnia portrays the everyday aspect of lying. In the film, Williams and Pachino are caught up in lies and it affects them so much that neither can sleep. This is a film that every mature person out there should try to see. Considering everyone has told some sort of fib in their life, you might get a good lesson out of this. In the end, telling the truth always prevails. Lies get you nowhere. Everyone should always tell the truth. This movie brings this topic up perfectly!
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 5]
—Tyler Ash, age 15