Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Insomnia (2002 version) (4 Stars)

You don't get to pick when you tell the truth. The truth's beyond that.

This is the second film I've watched this week starring Robin Williams. As far as I know it's unique among his films. This is the only film in which he plays the bad guy. When Robin Williams first appears on screen, almost an hour into the film, our first instinct is to like him. After all, it's Robin Williams! It's a mark of his acting ability that he's subtly able to convince us he's an utterly reprehensible character, and by the end of the film we're desperate to see him arrested or killed.

Detectives Will Dormer (Al Pacino) and Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan) are sent from Los Angeles to Nightmute, Alaska to help the local police solve the murder of a teenage girl. This is partly because the Nightmute police have had no experience of dealing with murders, but also to get Detective Dormer away from Los Angeles. The police's internal affairs division has suspicions that Dormer has been cutting corners to get convictions. However, on the plane Eckhart tells Dormer that he intends to testify against Dormer when they return to Los Angeles.

Dormer sets a trap and lures the killer to a cabin by the sea. The area is extremely foggy, and in the confusion Dormer accidentally shoots Eckhart. He realises that he might be blamed for deliberately killing his partner, so he fakes the evidence to make it look like the killer fired the shot. A day later the killer, a murder mystery author called Walter Finch (Robin Williams), rings Dormer and confesses to murdering the girl. But Finch saw Dormer shoot his partner, so he blackmails him to protect himself from arrest. Together Dormer and Finch make a plan to plant evidence of the murder on the girl's ex-boyfriend. Dormer's judgement is confused by a lack of sleep, due to the sun shining all day in the Arctic Circle.

This film is a remake of the 1997 Norwegian film with the same name. In lesser hands it would have been a disaster, but Christopher Nolan ably recreates it. The original takes place in Tromso, Norway, but the main differences are in the film's moral undertones. In the American film Detective Dormer is a good man who has sometimes done bad things to solve cases. The end justifies the means. In the original the detective's dark side is emphasised, and we have greater difficulty sympathising with him. As well as this, the film ends differently in the two versions. I don't want to give the story away by going into details. All I'll say is that the American film ties everything up neatly, whereas the Norwegian film leaves open ends.

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