Sleepless in Alaska

Director Christopher Nolan goes north for his latest film By ingrid randoja

Rating: NNNNN

Insomnia directed by Christopher Nolan, written by Hillary Seitz, produced by Paul Junger Witt, Edward L. McDonnell, Broderick Johnson and Andrew A. Kosove, with Al Pacino, Robin Williams, Hilary Swank and Martin Donovan. 120 minutes. A WB release. Opens Friday (May 24). For venues and times, See First-Run Movies, page 76. Rating: NNNN

Memento put Christopher Nolan on the cinematic map. Insomnia means to keep him there. Insomnia (see review, page 76) is the American remake of the similarly titled 1997 Norwegian film in which a big-city cop travels to northern climes to investigate a murder. In the Hollywood version, it’s L.A. cop Al Pacino who heads to Alaska with his partner (Martin Donovan).

Through a series of mishaps, Pacino winds up being blackmailed by the murderer (Robin Williams) and therefore playing both sides of the fence, trying to catch the killer before the other cops realize he’s aiding their number-one suspect. The film’s title comes from the fact that the action takes place during the summer, when it stays light almost 24 hours a day, preventing the ethically tormented Pacino from sleeping.

“I absolutely loved the original and thought it was totally unimprovable,” says Nolan during a recent stopover in Toronto to promote Insomnia.

“As I was watching it, I kept thinking the situation was such a marvellous paradox, and that doesn’t come along every day. It reminded me of Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers On A Train.

“In the wake of The Usual Suspects, Hollywood suddenly decided that what audiences wanted was to be surprised, not in a fundamental sense, but rather in a tricky sense — someone turns right instead of left. With Insomnia, we try to create a sense of inevitability — you feel that you know where the story is going, you just don’t know how it’s going to get there.”

Nolan got the job directing Insomnia when the film’s producers screened Memento and realized he has an amazing gift for storytelling. And it turns out to be a brilliant remake — Nolan takes the audience for a consistently intelligent ride. As he says, “Viewers go into a maze with Al Pacino and make the mistakes along with him.”

Pacino crows, bellows and saunters onscreen, and nobody could capture sleep-deprived angst better than the droopy-eyed, aging actor. Still, it’s Robin Williams who takes our breath away.

“Williams adopts a very conversational, banal tone, which is extremely frightening,” notes Nolan. “Pacino’s performance is getting the attention it deserves, and I’m grateful to him because so much of what people understand about the film only comes out of his expressiveness.

“But I’ve seen Robin’s performance hundreds of times, and it’s a perfect performance. I’m telling you, it’s absolutely perfect — there isn’t a false note in it. It’s terrifying and eerily consistent, to the point where I’m totally convinced that guy exists.”

There are people out there who feel Guy Pearce’s character in Memento exists. The cult of Memento groupies is growing, something Nolan could not have predicted.

“Some people are obsessed with the film, seeing it 20 times,” says Nolan. “But to be honest, I don’t think that’s weird, because I took three years to make the film, and in those three years all I did was obsess about the story. So to me it’s natural that somebody else may tap into that.

“I’m just now realizing how many people have seen it. For what it cost, it made a huge amount of money, $25 million, but that’s one weekend for a mediocre studio movie. It’s the video release and word of mouth that have allowed the film to reach a mainstream audience.”movie profiles

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