Viking Night: Insomnia
By Bruce Hall
August 19, 2014
Everyone says they hate remakes, but sometimes it works out. Anybody out there see Cape Fear, or Ocean’s Eleven? Yeah, you did and you liked them, too. A remake isn’t any different from any other movie. It’s either going to be good or not and when they’re not, it’s often because the filmmaker failed to understand what made the original work (Planet of the Apes), took all the fun out of it (A Nightmare on Elm Street), or Nicolas Cage was in it (The Wicker Man). Christopher Nolan took on the task of recreating the atmospheric Norwegian thriller Insomnia, by Erik Skjoldbjærg (say that 10 times fast, or even once, really).
Nolan’s remake evokes the psychological turbulence at the heart of Memento (his previous film), while highlighting tremendous insight into dark, tormented heroes - which he sadly hasn’t used for anything since. Trading the Arctic Circle for Alaska and Stellan Skarsgård for Al Pacino, Insomnia proves to be a studious and equally affecting reimagining of what was already a very good film.
Pacino plays Will Dormer, an aging LAPD detective who’s already tired when the movie starts. Despite his legendary reputation, an Internal Affairs probe is circling one of his old cases, causing him no end of professional grief. Dormer and his partner Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan) have been dispatched to the remote town of Nightmute, Alaska to help the police chief – an old friend – solve the brutal murder of a young girl. Their escort is an eager young officer named Ellie Burr (Hilary Swank), who is a student of All Things Dormer to the point where it borders on creepy. Still, anxious to get started, the detectives dive right into the case.
Because that’s how it happens in movies, after 20 minutes on the case, Dormer immediately determines that the killer is male, is familiar with police procedure, and was well known to his victim. The list of suspects is quickly narrowed down to two people - the victim’s boyfriend and an unknown individual of obvious financial means. As the investigation expands, Dormer discovers that they’re so far north that this time of year it never gets dark. Morning, noon, and midnight – it’s all the same. That’s a hard thing to take for a man whose life is already wearing at the seams.
The police set a trap for the killer, successfully luring him back to the scene of the crime – a fog-shrouded cabin in the woods. Things go wrong when in the mist and confusion, burdened by fatigue, Dormer accidentally shoots his partner. With all that’s happened, he knows it will look bad - so he pins the shooting on the man they were chasing. Torn apart by guilt, driven by insomnia, he presses on, only to receive a call from a man identifying himself as the killer, claiming he witnessed the accidental shooting. The killer insists he didn’t mean to do what he did – it was a crime of passion. Now, both men are under suspicion for what he sees as a tragic but “honest” mistake. The implication is that he and Dormer can help each other.