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Insomnia (2002): (A Movie Review)

Updated on December 13, 2016
wingedcentaur profile image

The first step is to know what you do not know. The second step is to ask the right questions. I reserve the right to lean on my ignorance.

 Robin Willams

Some of you, who are not old enough, may not be aware that Roblin Williams is/was (previously/and still) a comic and comedic actor. He is so well known for his versatility in handling various kinds of dramatic roles, such as the inspiring teacher in Dead Poets Society (1989) and the compassionate doctor in Awakenings (1990), and there are many more, that it is easy to forget this fact.

Mr. Williams has also put his stamp on the role of the psychopath. I'm thinking of One Hour Photo (2002). Mr. Williams delivers, yet again, embodying intensity itself playing off against Al Pacino who is, well, AL PACINO, in Insomnia.

Anyone who is familiar with Robin Williams's early television career would probably agree that he has certainly come a long way since the days of "Mork and Mindy." Remember that show? Who would have thought, I wonder, that Robin Williams would transition from that to becoming such a great dramatic force in Hollywood cinema?

One could certainly say the same thing about Tom Hanks (whom some have referred to as the 'Jimmy Stewart' of his generation). Mr. Hanks started (of course, I don't know if "started" is quite accurate but...) in the television comedy Bosom Buddies (1980-1982) about a couple of men (co-starring Peter Scolari) who dress as women in order to get a choice, rent-controlled apartment in New York City -- this, naturally, is clearly a descendant of Jack Lemmon's and Tony Curtis's film (with Marilyn Monroe) Some Like It Hot (1959). Who would have thought, during the early 1980s that Tom Hanks would transition into one of Hollywood's "most bankable" leading men? Did you see the awesome Tom Hanks 2002 film Road To Perdition, co-starring Jack Newman?

As you can probably tell, I'm fascinated with seemingly unlikely transformations. Look at Jaimie Foxx. He started as a comic and comedic actor. It seems all he does, these days, is play intense dramatic roles. He too is a most "bankable" leading man for Hollywood. I began to see what Foxx can do, in this domain, with the 2004 film Collateral, in which Tom Cruise also played against type as a contract killer. It seems, as well, that since Foxx's 2004 film Ray (which I hear was brilliant but I never saw because I have a bit of a problem watching movies featuring persons with disabilities) Mr. Foxx even does a bit of R&B singing as well!

For those of you with some familiarity with Hip Hop, consider Queen Latifah. I could be wrong, of course, but who would have thought, back when she began "beatboxing" and rapping in the late 1980s, that she would become not only an actress and singer, but achieve the ultimate triumph in our culture, that of becoming a Cover Girl spokesmodel? No doubt that the rather late and still partial realization -- on the part of mainstream media and modeling world -- of the beauty of the full-figured woman, I would say, over the last twenty years, was of some assistance here.

When are we going to talk about the actual subject of this hub, the movie Insomnia?

In a moment.... In a moment.... But first, let see a few video clips from the television shows and movies, aside from Insomnia, that I've mentioned so far. How about that?


But let us return, now, to Robin Williams. He is a performer, whose dramatic work I personally much, much, much prefer to his comedy. I feel that way about Jim Carey as well. But just consider the interviews Mr. Williams gives, for example. I, myself, have always found them unwatchable. He is invariably and relentlessly "on." He does not stop with the jokes -- EVER. There's not a serious 30 seconds to be had. IF ABSOLUTELY EVERTHING IS FUNNY, NOTHING IS!!!

But, of course, the dramatic work of Robin Williams is something different altogether, in my view. By the way, for those of you out there old enough to know, I wonder if you'd agree with me on the following point. It seems to me that Robin Williams's on-screen performances show shades of the great character actor, from decades past, Peter Lorre. Mr. Lorre is, perhaps, best known for his role as Mr. Cairo in the Humphrey Bogart picture The Maltese Falcon (1941).

For those of you not familiar with the name Peter Lorre, you must be wondering: What kind of actor was Peter Lorre?

Funny you should ask. Let me put it this way. Remember the Lord of the Rings trilogy of movies? Do you recall the character of the Gollum (otherwise known as Smeagold)? If Peter Lorre had been alive (and young enough, I guess) he would have been perfectly cast in that role. He could have put on the hours and hours, layers and layers of make up, and played the role with pitch perfect acumen in voice, movement, and demeanor. The studio wouldn't have had to use CGI!

Mr. Lorre had precisely that kind of crazy energy on the screen. It seems to me that somebody should make a movie about the life and career of Peter Lorre starring Robin Williams. The way I see it, its such an obvious fit.

And now, finally, at long last a word about Insomnia

And now for some cliches. (Let me clear my throat). Here we go: "This is a taut, tense, tightly-woven, high-octane psychological suspense thriller. If you only rent one movie this weekend make it INSOMNIA with Robin Williams as you have never seen him before! Get ready to be intrigued! Get ready to be terrified! Get ready to have INSOMNIA!!" :D

That happens to be quite correct, actually. Cliches are cliches for a reason, after all.

The story revolves around the issue of the beating death of a seventeen year old girl, a highschool student who'd had aspirations to be a writer. Al Pacino is a homicide detective from Los Angeles, sent their to assist the investigation (among other reasons). The movie, very, very, very briefly goes through the motions of a whodunnit (but this is all pro forma).

The authorities quickly, and correctly, hone in on Robin Williams's character as the killer.

Let me pause here a minute. I am writing this review in the hopes that it may persuade some of you, who have not yet seen Insomnia, to rent it today from NetFlix, or whatever one does these days to rent a movie. I suppose we're past the era of the neighborhood BlockBuster. Anyway, by revealing the Robin Williams's character -- a mystery writer who had served as a mentor to the murdered girl -- is the killer, I am not exactly giving away state secrets. Ths is not a whodunnit movie! We must be very clear about this. After all, Williams and Pacino's faces are on the movie poster. There is only one crime involved -- the beating death of the seventeen year old girl. When we see that Williams is not one of the detectives (which he's not), then what else is left?

Insomnia is psychological suspense in a very precise sense of this term, in a way that many other movies promise but do not deliver. The question of this movie is: Whose willpower will break first: Pacino's or Williams's?

Al Pacino's character (Detective Will Dormer) has another reason to want to get away from Los Angeles for a while. There's a federal investigation into corruption of his department, and Will, while he is a good cop, is, nevertheless vulnerable. Back in L.A. he faked evidence that got a child murderer convicted and put away. We believe in Dormer, and therefore one never gets the impression that he's made a mistake, got the wrong guy, or was framing an innocent person. No, Dormer got his man but just had trouble proving it, so he'd given things a little push.... That is the extent of his corruption; he didn't take "kickbacks" or anything like that.

He made the trip to Alaska with his partner Detective Hap Eckhart, whose got Dormer worried. Hap is feeling the pressure of the corruption probe and has decided to cooperate with the federal investigator. Hap tells Will this, while assuring him that nothing he says will affect Dormer (Pacino) in any way.

This is not good enough for Detective Dormer. He is not concerned for himself. He's worried that if Hap cooperates, somehow his (Dormer's) child murderer case will come under scrutiny, which it may not be able to withstand; if that happens the child killer will be let back out on the street. If that happens, who knows how many other of Dormer's cases might come under scrutiny? Who knows how many truly loathesome individuals might get released on to the street? Who knows how much damage they would do?

Dormer tries to persuade Hap that he shouldn't lose his nerve. Dormer says that the federal investigators have absolutely no hard evidence, nothing. The only way that can change is if they talk. They can ride this out, Dormer tries to assure his partner -- but to no avail. Detective Hap Eckhart remains determined to testify for the federal authorities to the great disappointment and disgust of Detective Dormer (Pacino).

Well, one day the detectives of the Alaskan police force along with Dormer and Hap get to chasing the suspect, the psychopathic killer, the mystery writer Walter Finch (Robin Williams). Dormer shoots and kills his partner Hap accidentally. It had been an accident. Dormer thought he was shooting, and hopefully killing the suspect Finch. But it wasn't Finch.

Dormer knows how this will look.... So he hastily arranges the crime scene to make it look like Hap had been shot and killed by Walter Finch (Robin Williams, the suspect). Now it just so happens that the only person in the world who had seen Dormer shoot and kill his partner and arrange the crime scene was..... Walter Finch!

Finch essentially makes this deal with Dormer: You keep my secret and I'll keep yours.

Will Finch get what he wants? Is this his way out of the tough spot he's in? Will Detective Dormer's sense of self-preservation win out over his sense of duty and the oath to serve and protect he took? This is PSYCHOLOGICAL SUSPENSE at its absolute finest!

Thank you for reading!



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    • wingedcentaur profile image

      William Thomas 6 years ago from That Great Primordial Smash UP of This and That Which Gave Rise To All Beings and All Things!

      Thank you, rai2722.

      Insomnia is one of the few movies in which Robin Williams stars as a true villain, a psychopathic killer, which he plays very well! And its hard to go wrong with Al Pacino in your movie!

      Thanks again for visiting.

    • rai2722 profile image

      rai2722 6 years ago

      Insomnia is very interesting because it's one of a very few movies that Robin William plays as an antagonist. Nice hubs!

    • wingedcentaur profile image

      William Thomas 6 years ago from That Great Primordial Smash UP of This and That Which Gave Rise To All Beings and All Things!

      Thank you, cwarden! I feel the same way. The only difference is I bought it in the archaic video tape form.

      Take it easy.

    • cwarden profile image

      cwarden 6 years ago from USA

      I love this movie! I watched it twice in the theater then bought the DVD as soon as it came out. Excellent review.