***.4 GM
Starring: Al Pacino, Hilary Swank, Robin Williams, Maura Tierney, Martin Donovan, Nicky Katt


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I'm all about the Memento, and this is a movie made by the director that got robbed at the Oscars, Christopher Nolan. Gosford-Ass Park gets awards, but Memento and Ghost World are robbed. Makes me sad. So out of support for Nolan, I trucked on out on opening day to see "Insomnia," and I wasn't disappointed.

It's the story of a couple of LA cops (Pacino and Donovan) sent up to Alaska to help a former colleague out with a murder case. The lead investigator on the case (Katt) is annoyed by this, but the rookie (Swank) takes the opportunity to get a new mentor out of Pacino's charcter Dormer (which is funny, because in Spanish, the word 'dormir' means 'to sleep.' Yo-ho!). When they corner the guy, however, he's got a gun and leading them on a chase through thick fog, which leads to Dormer accidentally shooting Hap, his partner. Tragic mistake, but the fact that Hap was about to cut a deal to implicate Dormer in some Internal Affairs investigation, it may not be quite believable as an accident. Add to the mix the fact that the killer (Williams) saw the whole thing and soon decides to harass Dormer privately about it. This stress and guilt makes it hard for Dormer to sleep... and not getting enough rest makes it hard for him to cover up the mistake shooting and outwit the real perpetrator, who happens to be holding this blackmail over Dormer's head in order to get his help to clear his name.

It's a complex thriller that really cranks up the tension - I was almost convulsing with nervousness during certain scenes - but I'm afraid to say that the ending doesn't quite live up to what's gone before. We've got an interestingly flawed hero scrambling to save himself from ruin, which would in turn set free most of the slugs in LA that were jailed by his repuation as a great and honest cop, against a murderer who's trying to force him to pin his crime on some stupid kid and a by-the-book tenacious cop who starts to sniff out his trail with subtle hints from the hero himself, as if he's subconsciously selling himself out because of his constantly exhausted state and never-ending guilt. This kind of story shouldn't end with your standard 'girl in trouble, fistfight, gunfight, denoument' schtick, but it pretty much does.

It's still an interesting tale, though. It's never hard to watch Pacino, save for maybe a few moments in "Heat" when he was blowing himself out of proportion. In this film, he's very low-key and affable, with only one real flare-up of "She's got a GREAT ASS!!! and your head is all the way UP IT!!" vocal stylings, but nothing of that abysmal caliber of dialog accompanies it. The man just LOOKS tired, too, which is perfect here. Swank, in the first non-transgender/New Karate Kid role I've seen her in, is adequate in her supporting role as the upright local officer, and Katt has the best stupid bar joke I've heard in a long time.

Williams doesn't show up until about halfway through the picture, it seems, and thankfully the killer's identity isn't really played up as much of a mystery, because his lack of presence would make his role obvious the longer that dragged out. Having just watched Robin Williams on a talk show recently and wondering if it was his comedy stylings that are no longer funny or if I just grew up enough to realize they weren't really funny in the first place, I was a bit soured on the man. However, before I went in I thought back to "Good Will Hunting" and his other dramatic work and remembered that he's got that down pretty well, so I could probably get into this. He strikes the appropriate balance between normal and creepy here as the mild-mannered small-town murderer that believes it was all an accident and honestly believes that pinning the crime on somebody else is better for everyone involved.

There are a lot of cool flourishes here and there to depict the state of perpetual haziness caused by insomnia and intense guilt over horrible shit Dormer really didn't mean to do, suggesting the style of "Memento" without really delivering the punch of it. As intricate as it all is, it starts to sputter slightly toward the end, not just with the typical cop story ending, but with the Maura Tierney relationship. She plays the nice hotel clerk where Dormer is staying, and he confesses to her out of nowhere about some shady evidence tampering he pulled to make sure a savage childkiller went to prison. This I could believe, since he's a good cop and he's been guilt-ridden over that and everything else, and he's also going on his sixth day without sleep - a bleary-eyed gut-spilling doesn't seem out of place. But the fact that she's sleeping in his bed the next morning doesn't make much sense, and alludes to a possibility that some huge subplot involving the relationship with her was hastily edited out, and thus lending thought to the possibility that there was some sort of conflict with the studio over this for some reason.

However, knowing "Memento," it's also entirely possible that I'll need to see it again in order to try and catch things that I missed the first time around, and sitting in the third row probably didn't help either. So I'm giving it the benefit of the doubt and concentrating on the good - and there's a lot of good here to enjoy.

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