Reviewed by: Ryan Hartsock and Matthew A. Markakis
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.