Insomnia
dir. Christopher Nolan
Opens Fri May 24 at the Metro, Pacific Place 11, others.

Alternative programming during blockbuster season is a pipe dream--at least as far as the success vs. failure ratio goes. Studios have attempted to reach "smart" filmgoers during summer months by scheduling small, important films against big summer blockbusters for years. But it never works. The smart films always flop, and the "smart" filmgoers are either watching the same blockbuster shit or sitting at home watching Fear Factor. So it's a shame that Christopher Nolan's smart, patient thriller Insomnia will surely sink to the bottom of the summer's sea of trash.

A remake of a 1997 Norwegian film, Insomnia is centered around a small Alaskan town--one of those far-north locations where half the year is spent in 24 hours of sunlight. This geographical fact causes Al Pacino, as L.A. detective Will Dormer, endless pain as he struggles to solve a murder without sleep. The man he's trying to catch? None other than Walter Finch, a local mystery writer (played with more-than-adequate creepiness by Robin Williams).

Unlike most thrillers released these days, especially those released between May and August, Insomnia is not about a chase, nor does it rely on thundering music and sound effects to raise your pulse. The story unfolds before you in the smallest of steps, almost lazily. By skipping the usual whodunnit scenario (Williams readily confesses pretty much halfway through), all sense of the usual good guys-vs.-bad guys-police-procedural-blah-blah-blah evaporates, leaving behind only Pacino's slow descent into sleep-deprived lunacy.

Said lunacy is the true thriller in this film, as Pacino (whose character is never very trustworthy to begin with) slowly begins to make bad decision after bad decision, leading him into chaos--a chaos egged on by Williams, whose desire to get away with murder gives him a motive to encourage Pacino's disintegration.

Nolan has crafted a more-than-worthy follow-up to Memento (2000). Insomnia may be a remake, but it is one of those rare remakes--one that matches, and even surpasses, its original.

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