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Insomnia (2002): …Is Sometimes Its Own Cure

Insomnia (Christopher Nolan, 2002)

[originally posted 3Dec2002]

Robin Williams and Al Pacino take up most of the movie poster, with a small nod to the original poster at the top.

One-Hour Photo meets The Devil’s Advocate in the gripping exploration of two actors whose careers had gone well off the rails.
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I hate to think it’s true, but having now seen Chris Nolan’s other two films, Following and Insomnia, I’m starting to think Memento—one of the finest films ever made—was a one-shot deal.

Al Pacino grills Robin Williams in a still from the film.

“Admit it! You didn’t REALLY have gender reassignment surgery to play Mrs. Doubtfire, did you?”
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Insomnia, based on Erik Skoldbaerg’s brilliant 1997 film starring Stellan Skarsjard (of Good Will Hunting and The Glass House). Nolan’s version—executive-produced by professional remake mangler Steven Soderbergh, who should be boiled in his own juices for what he did to Solaris—puts an on-the-edge Al Pacino in Skarsjard’s role, and Pacino is the best thing about this movie hands-down. It’s the first time since Dog Day Afternoon that he’s played a character who’s this unhinged both in his head and by the events around him, and we, the viewing audience, have sorely missed Mr. Crazy Pacino, thankyouverymuch. Unfortunately, Pacino is not given nearly as much to work with as was Skarsjard, and what he is given is as anemic as a nineteenth-century hypochodriac prescribed a convalescence of a length to be determined. (If only someone had done the same for Nolan.)

The police advance through the fog, at the ready, in a still from the film.

“There’s you first problem, Al. You’re not addressing the ball.”
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All of the motivation of Skarsjard’s character has disappeared (some for the sake of—ugh—“streamlining,” and some because American audiences, according to Hollywood, would have a real problem seeing a character with some of Skarsjard’s character’s nastier qualities portrayed in anything like a positive light), all of the ambiguity of two key scenes (the shooting in the fog and the ride to the dump) have disappeared, a key scene showing the depth to which the detective has sunk is lessened in its intensity, and most heretically, the ending is destroyed, all of which lead to a film that, had it been made on its own, may have been watchable. As a remake, however, it pales, and greatly, in comparison to the brilliant force unleashed upon us by Erik Skjoldbaerg in 1997. **


About Robert "Goat" Beveridge

Media critic (amateur, semi-pro, and for one brief shining moment in 2000 pro) since 1986. Guy behind noise/powerelectronics band XTerminal (after many small stints in jazz, rock, and metal bands). Known for being tactless but honest.

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