Famous Filmmaker : Forgotten Film | Christopher Nolan : Insomnia

This will be the first in a weekly series of articles aimed at unearthing the often great films of well known directors that are rarely discussed when considering their filmographies. While the goal of this series is to raise awareness and draw attention to these films, it will also serve as an opportunity to recommend some really terrific movies that have sadly been overlooked in recent years.


Fifteen minutes into Nolan’s third feature length film, it seems apparent why this is the least discussed movie in his filmography. Will Dormer (Al Pacino) and Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan) and the other guy are two LA detectives called up to the small town of Nightmute, Alaska to investigate the brutal murder of a 17 year old girl. The film has all the markings of a typical slow paced detective thriller, substituting the dim streets of Los Angeles for the well lit backdrop of the rural Northwest in summer, where there is daylight twenty four hours a day. However, while tamer than his later works, Insomnia still reflects Nolan’s penchant for twists within his films, as the film shifts focus as Dormer descends into madness and paranoia. Dormer is under review back in LA for potentially unsavory actions he took while conducting investigations back home, and matters are made worse when he is forced to cover up a murder he commits while pursuing his Alaskan suspect, all while losing night after night of sleep to the harsh, blinding Alaskan sunlight.

Nolan is often lauded for his keen visual style, and though traces of this can be seen in his previous films Memento and The Following, Insomnia is his first aesthetically stunning work. Due in no small part to Nolan’s career long cinematographer Wally Pfister, Insomnia is a spectacular in its visual coherence, as the camera work perfectly captures the mounting psychosis of Dormer as his sleeplessness drives him to the point of delusion. Pfister’s mark on the film is not limited to solidifying thematic ideas, the action scenes within Insomnia are tense, and kinetic, though one chase scene across a port used by Alaskan logging companies seems stand out as a definitive high point.

In addition to Insomnia being Nolan’s most cohesive film, as it avoids the unresolved, lofty ideas that have proved themselves to be an underlying issue in his more recent films, there are myriad reasons to give this film the viewing it deserves. The script is strong and tight, drawing heavily from the Norwegian Insomnia that inspired this fantastic remake. Though Pacino shines in the majority of the film, Insomnia has a stellar auxiliary cast, including Hilary Swank as a naive Alaskan cop, and Robin Williams delivers a terrific performance as a local crime writer who becomes intertwined with Dormer as his sanity and morality slip through his fingers. I am the first to say that I am not a huge Nolan fan, but Insomnia is by far my favorite entry in this generally beloved filmmakers admittedly impressive filmography, and definitely well worth your time.

Rating: 5 out of 5

17 thoughts on “Famous Filmmaker : Forgotten Film | Christopher Nolan : Insomnia

  1. kissthemovies August 13, 2015 / 11:43 pm

    Great review, I really need to check out this film. I’m looking forward to seeing what else you unearth in the coming weeks!

    • Andrew King August 13, 2015 / 11:49 pm

      Glad to hear it, and thanks! I hope to go a bit more in depth in coming weeks, this film unfortunately has a few good surprises that I didn’t have spoiled for me since I had heard very little about it, and I wanted to make sure not to ruin them for anyone reading this.

      • kissthemovies August 13, 2015 / 11:54 pm

        Yeah, I’m someone who likes going in pretty spoiler free to a movie and I think you handled it perfectly.

  2. frasersherman August 14, 2015 / 5:56 am

    It is a good film–sometime I must check out the European original. And the performances are all around excellent.

  3. throughtheclassics August 14, 2015 / 12:29 pm

    I have the feeling that I love Nolan’s work more than you. Insomnia feels almost like a departure, something quite different but kinda great. In a way, I would like to see him make another movie in that style, that would be quite interesting today.

    • Andrew King August 14, 2015 / 12:34 pm

      I don’t think it will ever happen unfortunately, I think Nolan has found his niche with big budget “mind warping” sci-fi, and don’t really see him going back. This film feels small and intimate by comparison to much of his recent filmography.

      • throughtheclassics August 14, 2015 / 12:39 pm

        That is exactly why it would be interesting. But I agree, little chance that will ever happen (maybe in 20 years ? :D)

      • Andrew King August 14, 2015 / 12:41 pm

        Yeah, who knows. I hate to use this term, but quite a few “washed up” directors have turned towards indie projects toward the end of their careers, it would be interesting to see if he ever changes course with the trajectory of his career.

  4. steiffanie August 15, 2015 / 1:45 pm

    I love what I’ve seen of Nolan’s films, and I haven’t seen this one so I may have to add it to my watch list! Loved your review 🙂

    • Andrew King August 15, 2015 / 3:23 pm

      It’s definitely unlike his more recent stuff, but I think most Nolan fans will still really like it. It’s a different type of movie for him but I really love it, it’s great. Thanks for commenting, hope you enjoy it!

  5. Steve August 22, 2015 / 1:39 am

    Thanks for pointing this one out – will check it out soon!

    • Andrew King August 22, 2015 / 12:01 pm

      It’s a good watch, and a rock solid thriller. Hope you enjoy it!

  6. prontron September 9, 2015 / 4:33 pm

    big fan of this movie. This one is one of Nolan’s truly forgotten master pieces.

    • Andrew King September 9, 2015 / 4:39 pm

      It’s definitely my favorite of his, it is such a small movie compared to the other stuff he has done but it’s just so slick and sharp. It’s a great film.

      • prontron September 9, 2015 / 5:21 pm

        Deffintiy the best acting and writing perhaps featured in one of his films.

      • Andrew King September 9, 2015 / 5:56 pm

        Interestingly, it’s the only film of his that Nolan didn’t write.

      • prontron September 9, 2015 / 6:02 pm

        Interesting !

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