Opening up to the sweeping vistas of Alaska, Christopher Nolan’s third dive into theatres is almost entirely unrecognisable as a Nolan film. But do not take this as a callous scathing of his one and only attempt at a detective murder mystery, as what remains outside his eventual reputation is something dark, entertaining, if a little “been there done that”.
Unlike most of his filmography, the spotlight does not lay on the director’s name and vision. Instead it shines brightly on its stars, and that for the most part, remains to be the biggest selling point of this movie. Whatever the landscape may have been in 2002, in 2020, audiences have seen mysterious murders in small isolated northern towns, with the budding clashes of the big shot outsider and the humble local detective. But that is where those stars come into play.
Leading the investigation is the large-as-ever Al Pacino, who will charismatically clash – and here are some spoilers, folks – with the against type killer, Robin Williams. Pitting these two personalities against one and other is electric, and their chemistry is palpable. Pacino is constantly at odds with his character’s tempered ego, and Williams sends chills down your spine as the politely unsettling killer. Unlike most of Nolan’s filmography, these actors feel near irreplaceable in their respective roles – particularly Williams who brings the nice guy impression most audiences have of him, to make you constantly feel at odds with his character.
But sadly, if you aren’t the biggest Williams or Pacino fan, Insomnia isn’t going to surprise you in many other ways. Being the only of his film that Nolan did not write, and as a remake of the Norwegian original, Insomnia feels like a by-the-numbers detective thriller. There is still enjoyment to be had, and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t invested but come the credits Insomnia lacked that Nolan-tinged experience.
Would I have enjoyed this film more if I didn’t know it was Nolan? Possibly, but it is difficult to come to a film with his name attached without bringing some level of expectation. And when that expectation is met with an apparent lack of what makes Nolan so special, it really fell to the wayside. It is a possibility that to move onto bigger and better things, Nolan had to subdue who he is as a director, to deliver what was expected. After all of this though, I feel like I have to reiterate that Insomnia is not a bad movie. It’s just a lacking Nolan movie.