Insomnia, the latest thriller from Memento director Christopher Nolan, is a serviceable enough cop vs. murderer yarn, yet there's nothing particularly special about it that warrants comparison to the director's ingenious debut feature.
Set in Northern Alaska, where the sun shines around the clock for six months out of the year, Insomnia is the tale of Dormer (Al Pacino), a distinguished LA detective sent to upper Alaska along with his partner (Martin Donovan) in order to investigate the murder of a 17-year-old girl. The detective is already clearly troubled due to events back in California (Internal Affairs is looking into his work), and the ever-shining sun doesn't help matters once he arrives in Alaska.
The film pretty much follows the plot of the Twin Peaks pilot until a character is killed and the murderer of the girl (Robin Williams) enters into a war of wits with Pacino. The film shifts from a standard cops-and-criminals formula into a parable about the moral ambiguity of said cops and criminals.
The story is told well enough, and the performances are good enough, so what's the problem? The movie is deathly dull, especially in its first half before Williams first shows up, and it becomes only moderately exciting once he actually shows up. The action sequences feel more obligatory than they are necessary, and the film's central moral dilemma (is the criminal's crime worse than that of the cop?) is buried under numerous other subplots and contrivances.
Worst of all, none of the flair that Nolan showed in Memento is present anywhere in Insomnia. He substitutes conventional narrative for the earlier film's puzzle, stock characters for Memento's originals, and an autopilot ending for Memento's shocker. While Memento was an original idea written and conceived by Nolan and his brother, Insomnia was written by others, and is itself a remake of the 1998 Swedish film of the same name. Perhaps since it's a big-budget, star-driven, studio movie, Nolan doesn't contribute the same passion that he brought to his more personal film.
Pacino is Pacino, in a similar role to his cop in Heat, a film which in a way has a similar plot. It's Williams' best performance since Good Will Hunting, although considering the alternatives (Death to Smoochy, Patch Adams), that's not saying much. A big bright spot, though, is Hilary Swank, whose career has drifted since her Boys Don't Cry Oscar- in this film she's got a great role as a young cop who suspects something may be amiss with her older colleague.
Insomnia, with its excellent cast and hot young director, could've been a great movie, but unfortunately the script is bungled, leading to a less than satisfying film.