Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Insomnia: Literary Filmmaking

On an assignment to solve the murder of an Alaskan teenager, Will Dormer finds himself in an intricate cat and mouse game with Walter Finch that has some rather earth shattering consequences.

Insomnia is the only film Christopher Nolan has directed that wasn't based on a script he wrote, but it doesn't matter. The screenplay feels just like his own films, thick with moody, conflicted characters and an intensity boiling under the surface that only Nolan can bring to the screen. The climactic fog sequence in the middle of the film is one of the most intense scenes Nolan has ever put on celluloid and he exploits every inch of his eerily calm Alaskan setting perfectly. Even the name of the city is a plot device. Nightmute, where it is always daytime.

The smallest details become some of the most revelatory in this film, including references to at least five different pieces of literature that repeat throughout the film. The main theme is of course, atonement and redemption in the midst of a terrible situation. Will is looking to make good for his sins in this life and Walter is looking to put his own on display, encouraging Will to do the same so he can finally be at peace enough to sleep.

The performances by both Al Pacino and Robin Williams in this film are absolutely riveting and their first scene together is reminiscent of the classic diner scene in Heat. The further the light seems to penetrate Donner's life, the more we feel for his character and the more he can't sleep. By the end of the film, we are practically praying for him to get some sleep as Pacino looks as though he's going to collapse at any point during the last 45 minutes or so.

Insomnia is an incredibly tense, slow-burning, thriller that blurs the line between redemption and selfishness. Thematically, this is probably Nolan's densest and most challenging film as the end isn't extremely clear cut, but that's the beauty of it. This is a man that constantly credits his audience with intelligence and if you are willing to put the effort in, the rewards are well worth it.

My Rating: 8.5/10

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