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Just Try to Keep Your Eyes Open

By Chloe Tergiman

Directed by Chris Nolan

Written by Nikolaj Frobenius and Erik SkjoldbjÆrg

Starring: Al Pacino, Robin Williams, Hillary Swank

Rated R

Unlike Memento, in which Chris Nolan showed talent and originality, Insomnia is a mainstream movie that doesn’t keep to its promises. This movie won’t make you think, won’t surprise you, and won’t even keep your eyes open for two hours.

Insomnia follows Will Dormer (Al Pacino), an LAPD officer sent to help out in a murder case in the small town of Nightmute, Alaska, where daylight lasts 24 hours. Dormer arrives with his partner Hap (Martin Donovan) to give a hand to the local police. A young girl has been murdered and her body has been found in a garbage bag in a dump. There are no suspects and no witnesses. It’s a good thing LAPD sent Zorro and his partner to help out: it takes an experienced policeman to think of questioning the boyfriend Randy (Jonathan Jackson), and the best friend of the victim. Turns out she was seeing another man! Maybe he’s got something to do with the murder!

In an attempt to catch the suspect, Dormer accidentally shoots and kills his own partner, but attributes the murder to the suspect they were chasing. Good cop turns bad. Ellie Burr (Hillary Swank), a bright, naive, local policewoman, is assigned to write the report on Hap’s death. We immediately suspect she will discover the truth. Dormer, suffering from insomnia, begins to have trouble concentrating. Is it his conscience? The constant daylight? Both?

On the second day, the killer calls Dormer in his hotel room. The cat has become the mouse. In their conversation, Finch offers Dormer a deal: “If you don’t tell I killed her, I won’t tell you killed him.” Bad cop turns worse. Meanwhile, Burr finds inconsistencies in Dormer’s account of his partner’s death. Surprise, surprise.

The rest of the movie can be summarized in a few sentences: Dormer can’t sleep. Dormer tries to do good through evil. Boyfriend is framed. Dormer can’t sleep. Dormer tries to find a way to fix his injustice against the boyfriend. Dormer can’t sleep. Dormer tries to catch Finch. Dormer still can’t sleep. Did I mention that Dormer can’t sleep?

The only realistic element in the movie is the portrait of insomnia. The sleep-deprived Al Pacino is grand. His difficulty concentrating, his drowsiness, and the battle to keep his eyes open while driving are all well-filmed.

Pacino’s character in the movie lacks depth. Although our judgment of him changes through the movie, this change occurs not through his complexity but through a plot that becomes more grotesque the further we get into the movie. Even face-to-face conversations between Al Pacino and Robin Williams don’t compensate for the mediocrity of the plot.

This psychological thriller is neither psychological nor a thriller. Indeed, the attempt to use insomnia as a psychological element is far from successful. Knowing all the different facets of the characters before the halfway point, the movie kills the thriller aspect of this movie. We know who killed whom, where and how. The investigation that leads to Finch, the setup to catch him, the interactions between Dormer and Finch, and the details of the different deaths (Hap’s and the young girl’s) are just not interesting.

Robin Williams’ character in the movie isn’t as slick or troubled as he could have been. He simply doesn’t offer the viewer the complexity other cold, shrewd killers do, like Hannibal in The Silence of the Lambs. Finch is too predictable in his actions.

In a movie with actors like Al Pacino and Robin Williams, one would expect to see a plot and screenplay that matches their talent. In Memento, the psychological aspect of the characters, a real plot, and an unexpected end are what made that movie excellent. Unfortunately, the characters here are under-developed and not convincing. In Insomnia, the psychological element that was put forward in the previews is all but absent. There are no moral questions, no intrigue, no surprises, nothing. The visual style has nothing distinct. Don’t go see Insomnia, go to bed instead.