leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh
A resolutely old-fashioned cop movie and the major studio debut of director Christopher Nolan, whose independents MEMENTO (2001) and FOLLOWING (1998) relied on fiendishly fragmented storytelling to revitalize conventional narratives. Embroiled in an internal affairs investigation involving evidence tampering, LAPD detectives Will Dormer (Al Pacino) and Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan) are dispatched to Alaska on the pretext that the small-town Nightmute police need help solving the murder of a local teen (Crystal Lowe). The partners know it's simply an excuse to get them out of town, and seen-it-all veteran Dormer is content to lie low until the storm blows over. The younger Eckhart is nervous; he's been offered a deal and plans to take it, swearing that he won't implicate Dormer. The trouble creates a chill between them, and they're both thrown by the 24-hour daylight that characterizes Alaskan summers. Dormer is especially affected: He can't sleep. Meanwhile, local cops find the dead girl's knapsack in an isolated, uninhabited shack, and Dormer advises them to set a trap for the killer; he hopes the guilty party can be lured into trying to retrieve the bag and run straight into a police ambush. The bait is taken but the plan goes awry. In the ensuing scramble through foggy, unfamiliar terrain, Dormer accidentally shoots Eckhart to death. Everyone thinks the bullet came from the suspect's gun and the pro forma report on the incident is assigned to eager-beaver rookie Ellie Burr (Hilary Swank), Dormer's biggest admirer. Then, as Dormer endures another sleepless night, the killer calls. He saw the accident, and saw that Eckhart thought Dormer did it on purpose. He thinks he and Dormer should talk. The murderer turns out to be a mild-mannered local mystery writer, Walter Finch (Robin Williams), and he believes Dormer could — and should — help him beat the murder rap. And so the cat and mouse games begin, as Dormer struggles to hang on to his integrity as a police office and Officer Burr's investigation turns up ever-more disturbing inconsistencies in her idol's account of Eckhart's death. Nolan's reworking of the chilling Norwegian thriller INSOMNIA (1998), which starred Stellan Skarsgård as the sleepless sleuth, is slick and creepy; he elicits one of Pacino's most effectively subdued performances in years and uses Williams sparingly. Fans of the original will miss its relentless dyspepsia, but Nolan's intention was clearly to cast the material in a more conventional Hollywood mold without turning it into namby-pamby nonsense, and he succeeds admirably.