It would appear that in far too many modern films the moviemakers ignore the fact that the audience is composed of intelligent human beings. This appears to be especially true in the often-misunderstood genre of the mystery. In most recent mysteries the clues are like huge red trucks in a suburban parking lot. There is no missing them and after seeing a film once there is no need or desire to return for another viewing. The high-water mark of this time honored genre is the ability to intellectually engage the audience, treat them with respect and compel them to see the film more than once. This film is a remake of the existential Swedish film Insomnia by Erik Skjoldbjærg. The rather complex plot revolves around a seasoned detective from Los Angles, Will Dormer (Al Pacino) that is just a few steps away from a complete burnout. An Internal Affairs in that threatens to end his life long career plagues him. He is sent far to the north to the town of Nightmute Alaska, mere miles from the North Pole, a place of extremely long, unbroken day. He is a man driven by the fear of losing his career coupled with the physical exhaustion compounded by the unfamiliar surroundings. With him comes his much younger partner Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan). More than the usual sidekick, Hap may be along in order to garner evidence that can be used by Internal Affairs to end the career of Dormer while placing Hap on the fast track to success. They are sent to this distant local to assist the young local police officer, Ellie Burr (Hilary Swank). Ellie is new to the job and anxious to prove she can handle the job by resolving this mystery. The main suspect in the murder of a 17year old girl is pulp novelist Walter Finch (Robin Williams). His obsession and attention to details provide a dark reflection for Dormer, a foe that forces him to perform a self-examination that is extremely painful to the beset detective. The story as presented here is far from the usual tired rehashing of the original. It is truly an original work in its own right. Where the Swedish flick took a more existential approach, here we are give a more psychological path to the tale. In the pivotal scene set in the dark fog Hap is killed. There is naturally doubt as to who shot him. Was it the murderer or was it Dormer in an effort to prevent Haps cooperation with Internal Affairs. In the Swedish version the fog could easily have represented the blindness of mankind, here it stands in extremely well for the self-doubts and confusion that are at the psychological core of each character.
The only word that can suitably describe this cast is incredible. The actors where chosen like spices that each blend to add a compelling flavor to a well prepared meal yet each retain their own distinctive taste. Pacino, with seven Oscar nominations and one win to his name, is in usual master form here. This is an actor that has reached unimagined heights in his craft and can write his own ticket for any role he desires. Here, he brings a real gut reaction to the role of Dormer. The physical burden and reactions are transmitted to the audience with a visceral impact. Swank is fresh off her Oscar win for Boys Dont Cry, and here has reverted to her womanly form. She also uses her body to express emotions and nuances that add to the beautifully woven tapestry of the plot. She shows Ellie as a woman trying to prove herself in a traditionally male career while not sacrificing her gender. She shows a woman can function in a job without betraying herself with the stereotypical hindrances of feminine weakness. While Robin Williams can miss the mark in his comedies (proof: Death to Smoochy) we often forget he is a dramatic actor of superior merit. Here is another Oscar winner that turns the multiple personality ability that makes him such a hyper kinetic comedian and turns in inward to inhabit dark and foreboding roles such as this one. In one scene on a ferry WIlliams and Pacino face off, each holding a secret about the other. This is what film is about, the interaction of two incredible actors. I have been following the career of Martin Donovan since its start in the Hal Hartley flick, Trust. He traded in leading man in independent films for an excellent career in smaller but always pivotal roles in some of the most critically acclaimed films today. His forte is the presentation of characters that have a dual natural and seem to know they are heading to a point in their lives where a difficult choice must be made.
Christopher Nolan burst on the scene with his first mainstream film Memento. This film provided a truly unique and novel approach to moviemaking. The problem with such a momentous and distinctive film is the director is under a lot of pressure to make the next film even more successful. This is usually done by basically redoing the elements that made the first film noteworthy. Ah, down the dark side this will lead you. This method can trap a director and imprison him with the success of the first film. In a display of individuality Nolan turns away from this path and builds on the achievement of Memento with a completely different approach to enthralling his audience. His play of dark and light is masterful. He finds more impact with the absences of set than most directors can with the most elaborate set design imaginable. He knows almost on a gut level how to frame a scene. Clues are presented hidden just beneath the minds awareness, just like a good mystery should have it. This director deserves a spot on your Ill see a film because he did it list. The ever present light of day pounds away at the character of Domer and through him the audience. Nolan knows how to put the audience in the head of his characters.
The DVD is near perfection. The Dolby 5.1 soundtrack presents an eerie soundstage that adds to the thick atmosphere of the work. The anamorphic 2.35:1 video is pixel free, crisp and as close to projection quality as possible on TV. There are also a host of extras geared towards the serious film buff. Two commentary tracks are provided, Nolan on one, Swank and filmmakers on the other. There are interviews with Pacino and Nolan, production featurettes and extended scenes with a commentary track by Nolan. In all this is a must have disc for all collections. Get it or be lost in the endless day and fog.
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