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  • Insomnia (2002): ***1/2

    Directed by Christopher Nolan

    Insomnia is definitely a Christopher Nolan movie. Although it isn't nearly as convoluted and fascinating as his Memento, it has one thing very much in common with that movie: an unreliable narrator.

    The movie (for the most part) takes place from the point of view of Al Pacino's character, a big city detective sent up to northern Alaska to solve a case—and also to relieve some pressure from an Internal Affairs investigation into some shady things he may have done in his past.

    In this part of Alaska during this time of the year the sun never sets, and Al Pacino finds it therefore impossible to sleep. So as the movie goes on, his character gets worse and worse and worse, until not even he can tell what is actually happening (or what has actually happneed in the past). He makes stupid mistakes becuase he can't concentrate. He hallucinates. He has one hell of a bad time.

    The movie is at its best when we get to experience all this along with Al Pacino. There's a fantastic sequence when his character is just sitting in the police station, and we see and hear what he's seeing and hearing—a series of exaggerated sounds and strange focus and lighting tricks. I've never seen any film so accurately capture the detachement and weirdness of sleep deprivation.

    Unfortunately, I don't think the movie dwelt enough in that world. Too often it pulls out and looks on from a more objective third-person point of view (mostly from the point of view of the Next Karate Kid, Hillary Swank, who is f&%#king awesome in this movie by the way). I would probably have given this film four stars if it had drawn me even more into Pacino's messed-up perception. As it is, I found it a little difficult at times to get involved in the story.

    There was also somethign about the ending that bothered me. It needed either more resolution or less. A character makes a decision, but then we don't get to learn what the ramifications of that decicion will be—and there's not enough information in the movie itself to let us piece together those ramifications. I actually would have been completely satisfied if the movie ended while the character was sitting there trying to figure out what to do, rather than have a decision but no consequences. But that's just me and my insistence on long denouments in movies.

    This is a fantastic job for a first big-budget movie for Nolan. It looks gorgeous, the performances from the actors (Pacino, Swank, and Robin Williams) are some of the finest of their respective careers, and the story is actually unpredictable and surprising (and from what I hear, very different from the original European movie upon which this one is based). Good job.

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