It's so cold in Alaska
Insomnia: dir Christopher Nolan, starring Al Pacino, Robin Williams, Hilary Swank, Martin Donovan

When a schoolgirl is murdered in a small Alaskan community LAPD detective Will Dormer (Pacino) and his sidekick Hap (Donovan) fly in to investigate.

Beautifully shot, in a wry setting, Christopher Nolan's follow-up to Memento is about living with past actions, when those actions make you act in ways you wouldn't desire. A lie leads to more lies. Can the end justify the means if the means betray your character (and risk your reputation)?

The disorientation of Alaska's 24hr sun makes itself felt. Feet slip on cobbles, phones awkwardly fit into receivers, and Pacino has to cover his tracks in an unforgiving glare. So far so good.

Memento didn't engage me. A one-trick pony, well-executed, I didn't empathise with the protagonist (for many this was its greatest strength). The characters are stronger in Insomnia. Pacino conveys how it feels to be f°ted and under the spotlight when you aren't free to be yourself, under false pretences. He's already not himself when admiring local cop Ellie Burr (Swank) asks him questions - lost behind a fog of faces and exhaustion.

Pacino looks good in leather jacket, his face the cigar smoker's ruin. His performance is not as OTT as in Any Given Sunday although he does erupt occasionally. The against-type Williams is also excellent, his naturally friendly face like a sedative tempting Pacino into acquiescence.

Ultimately, though, the film doesn't let us see Pacino come to terms with his actions. Far better for him to take the consequences. And I wonder whether the conversation between Williams and Pacino was recorded on answerphone. This would have enabled Pacino to confess all and prove he had met with Williams. Final scenes that mirror Pacino / Williams and emphasise Williams as mentor to the deceased admiring girl and Pacino mentor to Burr are overplayed, while Burr is left to make her own decisions. And we've been here before - Pacino's rapport with the killer (Williams in best 'Agent Cujon' voice), meeting the killer in a public place (this time a boat rather than a café), while the teenage lover's necklace and starkly beautiful backdrop are sheer Twin Peaks. It would have suited the film to draw out the repercussions the way it found its own pace throughout; but then our lives are rounded with a sleep.

© Matt Bryden 2002