wogma rating: Add to 'must watch' list (?)

quick review:

Insomnia is not just another film, which explores the grey area that a character falls into. Ridden with moral conflicts and psychological undertones, it’s a brilliant story that manages to get under your skin and makes you think. It’s an absorbing run and chase narrative with enough mind games to last you the entire duration of the film. Catch Insomnia for its powerful performances by Al Pacino and Robin Williams, and the thrilling visuals that promise you an-edge-of-the-seat action.

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Director: Christopher Nolan
Running time: 112 minutes
Genres: Thriller
More Movie Info

It's difficult to resist a DVD that has Christopher Nolan, Al Pacino and Robin Williams to its credit. Both Memento and Following, Nolan’s earlier films, are ambiguous and experimental. On a different note, Insomnia is a psychological thriller about the murder of a teenage girl in Alaska.

Before watching the film, I had prepped myself for a mind-bending experience. And I was slightly off the mark. Insomnia’s not a jigsaw puzzle. It’s a rather straightforward plot, with linear narration. But even with the simplicity, you see the layers. Once you move beyond the plot of the film, you can identify a cinematic style that provides a benchmark for his later films.

Before you can start typecasting the film as a regular nail-biter, the first 15 minutes of the film introduces you to mood lighting, intercutting visuals and hallucinatory images. David Julyan’s background score is haunting and provides a sense of pace to the film.

All of these elements make you think about the similarities in his directorial approach. If you’re one of those who watched the Batman series and Inception before watching his earlier films, you’ll realize that somewhere Insomnia, becomes a stepping-stone for Nolan. It subtly marks his mysteriously layered, hair-raising style of telling a story, which is seen in abundance in his later movies.

Insomnia is Nolan’s first big Hollywood film, under Warner Brothers in 2002. It’s a remake of a Norwegian film that was released in 1997 starring Stellan Skarsgard, from Good-Will Hunting. Hillary Seitz's grabbing screenplay is coupled with perfect casting. Robin Williams plays a creepy, almost psychotic writer and Al Pacino plays the battered down detective with immense conviction. You almost want to pat him to sleep every time you see him battling with Insomnia.

Pacino’s character faces a moral conflict through the film which causes him to lose sleep and that’s when you notice the crafty subtext of the film. Apart from the run and chase plot, the narrative also carries with itself the motifs of defining good and evil. Nolan is known to have such characters in his film, who toe the moral lines with so much fervor, you can see yourself standing there with them.

The special features on the DVD make it a valuable purchase – two commentaries, one is by director Christopher Nolan, while the other is a scene-specific affair with actress Hillary Swank, production designer Nathan Crowley, editor Dody Dorn, cinematographer Wally Pfister and screenwriter Hillary Seitz. In Nolan’s commentary, he goes through each scene as they were filmed in detail. Watch out for the 14-minute conversation with Al Pacino and Nolan where they talk about movies, filmmaking and their respective careers.

The rain-drenched setting of a small town in Alaska is extremely significant. As if the silence of the town is hiding secrets of many such murders, many such instances. Pacino is brilliant, as is expected, and Insomnia makes you feel like you’re walking through the narrative, trying to figure out how Pacino manages the intelligent swiftness without any sleep. It’s the perfect film for a lazy afternoon watch, to motivate yourself to get up and kick your senses.

This review is by guest reviewer Swetha Ramakrishnan. Swetha Ramakrishnan is currently living and working in Mumbai. She's a self-confessed film enthusiast and can most likely be found talking to anyone and everyone about popular cinema and her love for SRK. Swetha Ramakrishnan also blogs at

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This page has additional observations, other than the ones noted in the main review.

Parental Guidance:

  • Violence: some gory scenes
  • Language: explicit in parts
  • Nudity & Sexual content:None
  • Concept: stimulating
  • General Look and Feel: Blue-ish tone, eye grabbing

Detailed Ratings (out of 5):

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Insomnia - Cast, crew, links

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Running time:
112 minutes

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