Take a Drink: for local color
Take a Drink: for each sleepless night
Take a Drink: for sneaky policework from Pacino
Take a Drink: for hallucinations
Take a Drink: for bloodstains
Do a Shot: for tape recorders
By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
Christopher Nolan’s contributed as many mind-bending concepts, twists, and ideas to the pantheon of cinema as pretty much any living director, and many of the greats besides, but nothing blew college freshman Henry J. Fromage’s mind quite so much as Robin Williams in Insomnia.
Memento + weed just short-circuited his brain
Al Pacino plays the sufferer of the titular ailment, a LAPD homicide detective who is shunted off to Alaska to investigate the murder of a teenage girl in order to avoid an encroaching Internal Affairs investigation. He corners the killer quickly, but the chase turns deadly when Pacino accidentally shoots his partner, who also would have been a key witness against him in the case. The killer sees this, and what ensues is a battle of will and wits, exasperated by Pacino’s white night insomnia.
Insomnia was Christopher Nolan’s first big-budget studio feature after a quality debut with Following and the mind-blowing awesomeness of Memento, and it shows for good and ill. He and DP BFF Wally Pfister revel in the wide angle vistas, helicopter shots, idiosyncratic sets, and action possibilities that a bigger budget can provide. Outside of the central acting duo, Insomnia feels like a film of set-pieces, but they are simply top-notch set-pieces, from the lumberyard chase to the multiple cabin shootouts, particularly the kinetic finale.
Who knew Robin Williams was so spry?
Where Insomnia makes its bank, though, is in the interplay between Williams and Pacino. Pacino delivers one of his last truly excellent performances before his recent slide that bottomed out in his zero fucks-giving, honestly gloriously turn in Jack and Jill.
I swear he just wanted a Razzie to pair with his Oscar.
Here he’s another don’t give a shit tough guy who knows all the tricks of the trade and when to bend the rules, but his character deepens as the film goes on, becoming more vulnerable and haunted as that hard exterior gets chipped away at. He finds a foe as clever as he is in Williams, who subverts his friendly neighbor, regular guy persona brilliantly with his dispassionate, matter-of-fact, and truly depraved villain. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen or even imagined in him when I first saw it, and made me realize that this guy really could do anything, a realization that made his Old Dogs moments doubly painful, at least until August 11th put that all in perspective.
The ill portion of the studio influence shows in the somewhat homogenized nature of the story, especially in the first act. The Alaskan setting is nice, but otherwise everything’s a little pat and familiar, at least until Williams shows up. The fact that it takes so long for him to do so means you should have an extra beer handy to tide you over until he does.
Insomnia goes from standard thriller to something great due to the stellar interplay between two greats, Robin Williams and Al Pacino, and the ace direction of Christopher Nolan.