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  • Writer's pictureJames Rutherford

'Insomnia': Christopher Nolan's Beguiling and Crafty Alaskan Murder-Mystery

Movie poster for the film Insomnia starring Al Pacino and Robin Williams

”Insomnia" (2002) is a crafty and darkly thrilling murder mystery starring Al Pacino as Will Dormer, an LAPD detective who travels to Alaska in order to assist in a perplexing murder investigation. Dormer arrives to the remote fishing village of Nightmute alongside his partner Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan)—their intervention coming at the behest of police chief Nyback (Paul Dooley), a former colleague of Dormer’s with otherwise limited investigative resources.

Beset by an ongoing internal affairs inquiry back in Los Angles, Dormer is bedeviled by Eckhart’s admission that he intends to testify against him in a complicated case of misconduct. Their subsequent involvement in the case of Kay Connell, a 17-year-old girl found brutally murdered, is rife with undue apprehension and underlying animosity—particularly after a secondary murder brings idealistic young detective Ellie Burr (Hilary Swank) into the fold. Ultimately their mutual efforts put them on the trail of lead suspect Walter Finch (Robin Williams), a local crime writer who harbors a myriad of dark secrets and mysterious intentions.

Directed by Christopher Nolan (“The Dark Knight”, “Inception”) and based on the 1997 Norwegian film of the same name, “Insomnia” is a enticing investigative procedural turned on its head, with Pacino delivering a vibrant performance as the amoral semi-antihero Dormer. As he intricately plays both sides in this sordid tale of intrigue and deception, Pacino helps to realize a refreshingly alternative take on the mystery-thriller genre—defying anticipated clichés to culminate in a dynamic depiction of moral ambiguity.


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