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Insomnia

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Insomnia

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A gimmick is only a gimmick if it's in service of nothing but its own gimmickry. The big twist in Christopher Nolan's astonishing Memento–a thriller that unfolds in reverse chronological order–is that the gimmick suddenly melts away, revealing a deeply considered and profound statement about the slippery nature of memory and the human capacity for self-deception. So it only follows that Nolan's next project, a compelling big-budget remake of the superb Norwegian "sunlit noir" Insomnia, would segue smoothly (and in reverse anatomical order, no less) from memory to perception, relishing the sometimes fuzzy connection between the eyes and the mind. Those who aren't familiar with Erik Skjoldbjærg's original will likely be immune to the remake's biggest flaw, which is the disappointing suspicion that Nolan, for all his talent and craft, never came up with a reason for the remake, other than to translate a great film into English and introduce it to a wider audience. But while his additions and subtractions are negligible, the premise still carries an ingenious metaphorical hook, centering on a man whose guilty conscience can never escape the light of day. In a role originally played by the much younger Stellan Skarsgård, Al Pacino looks haggard; his world-weary demeanor speaks volumes about his character, a veteran L.A. detective assigned to investigate the murder of a high-school student in small-town Alaska. As an internal-affairs unit prepares to mount a corruption case against him back home, Pacino and partner Martin Donovan track a methodical killer during summer in the Arctic Circle, under perpetual sunlight. A ruse to snare the suspect pays off, but a shootout on a foggy beach ends with Pacino accidentally shooting Donovan and then hastily covering it up, worried that his partner's cooperation in the internal-affairs case will make him the obvious culprit. While a local officer (Hilary Swank) collects evidence for a report on the incident, the sole witness (Robin Williams, in his best performance in about 18 years) blackmails Pacino to save his own hide. As Pacino endures day after day without a wink of sleep, Insomnia skillfully turns the screws, delving further into his troubled mind as it's haunted by past and present sins, as well as deceptive visions that seem to bleed out of his conscience. Nolan's solid, workmanlike direction doesn't strike any memorable grace notes, but he draws out the key ambiguities in the story with great precision, to the point where even Pacino himself isn't certain whether the shooting was an accident. Long on atmospherics and short on plot, the original Insomnia drifts so far away from the initial murder investigation that it nearly becomes incidental to the real story, about a crooked man deprived of the darkness he needs to conceal his secrets. Nolan reverses the emphasis–;no surprise from the director of a plot-driven film like Memento–but achieves the same end, bringing Hollywood noir under the harsh glare of permanent daylight.

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