Thriller Will Keep You Wide awake.(LIFE - ENTERTAINMENT)(MOVIES)

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 24, 2002 | Go to article overview

Thriller Will Keep You Wide awake.(LIFE - ENTERTAINMENT)(MOVIES)


Byline: Gary Arnold, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Last year at this time, "Memento" drew attention to the virtuoso skills of young director Christopher Nolan. While movie buffs were rising to the challenge of "Memento," Mr. Nolan, 31, was in British Colum-

bia directing a follow-up thriller of a different but impressively evocative and haunting kind. That movie, "Insomnia," opens today and provides prompt reassurance that an exceptional cinematic talent has surfaced.

"Insomnia" is easier to follow, advancing in chronological order almost exclusively, but it demonstrates that "Memento" was no fluke. Mr. Nolan can be a spellbinder, telling a story forward as well as backward.

"Insomnia" is based on a Norwegian crime melodrama of the same title, released in 1997. The previous work starred Stellan Skarsgaard as a police detective compromised by circumstances and character flaws - while also tormented by the prolonged summer light of Norway - when he travels to a remote community in the far north to advise on a murder investigation.

Mr. Nolan and screenwriter Hillary Seitz have transposed the setting to a small town in Alaska called Nightmute. The role of the protagonist is entrusted to Al Pacino, who responds with a classic new addition to his gallery of tenacious and obsessive cops. We could be watching a valedictory Pacino portrait of a noble wreck, a dedicated burnout case named Will Dormer.

A legend in the robbery-homicide division of the Los Angeles Police Department, he arrives in Nightmute under a professional cloud. Dormer is accompanied by partner Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan), who admits to feeling the heat from an Internal Affairs probe back home that is targeting both of them.

A former LAPD colleague, Charlie Nyback (Paul Dooley), is the chief of police in Nightmute. One of Nyback's officers, Hilary Swank as Ellie Burr, admits to hero worship where Dormer is concerned. She made a close study of his most famous cases while she was a police academy student.

Getting down to work, Dormer examines the corpse of murder victim Kay Connell, a high school girl. A surveillance operation misfires and results in the gunshot death of one of the officers. Subsequently, Dormer is exposed to blackmail threats from the killer he's out to capture.

The plot of the original film has been revamped in ways that permit a more redemptive outcome for the potentially compromised Dormer. The emphasis shifts once the principal murder suspect reveals himself. …

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