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Picks and Pans Main: Screen

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Al Pacino, Robin Williams, Hilary Swank

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Insomnia may indeed keep you up nights, but for all the right reasons. A smart, intricately constructed thriller, the film has far more on its mind than just who done it. There’s enough here in terms of complex characters, themes and symbolism to fuel postmoviegoing discussions way into the wee hours. Start with the fact that the sleep-deprived protagonist is named Will Dormer, which seems an obvious play on dormir, French for “to sleep.”

Dormer (Pacino), a celebrated Los Angeles police detective, and his partner (Martin Donovan) fly to a small Alaska town to help investigate the bludgeoning death of a 17-year-old girl. Upon seeing how carefully the killer has groomed the corpse, Dormer deduces that the murderer is a first-timer but one who will strike again. “This guy crossed the line and he didn’t even blink,” Dormer says. “You don’t come back from that.”

Dormer soon crosses the line himself when he accidentally—or is it?—shoots his partner while chasing the murder suspect in a fog-bound forest. Plagued by guilt over his partner’s death, drawn into a battle of wits with a crafty killer and unable to sleep because of the midnight sun that shines brightly 24 hours a day during Alaska’s brief warm season, Dormer begins to unravel. What makes Insomnia so compelling is that it is as much a character study of his psychological collapse as it is a police thriller.

This should come as no surprise considering that the film, a remake of a 1997 Norwegian movie of the same name, is directed by Christopher Nolan, who last year served up the nifty, backward-running psychological thriller Memento. Here he deftly maneuvers both his big-name cast and the film’s complicated storytelling (newcomer Hillary Seitz wrote the script).

Pacino is in top form, his grizzled visage and weary eyes evidence of Dormer’s having made one too many compromises in his career. Williams, playing a mystery writer involved in the case, provides a commendably reserved turn as a repressed misfit. And Swank, as an eager-beaver local cop who’s helping Dormer, holds her own in august company. (R)

Bottom Line: Alarmingly good


Jennifer Lopez, Billy Campbell

The one welcome twist in this revenge melodrama is how nicely director Michael Apted underplays the setup. The world seems flooded with pearly sunlight as a waitress named Slim (Lopez) meets and marries Mitch (Campbell), a rich construction magnate. The scenes unfold with the orderly simplicity of an American domestic fairy tale. Then Slim discovers that Mitch has a mistress—and that he thinks it within his rights to knock his wife down if she objects. Slim escapes, taking their daughter, but Mitch keeps up the abuse long-distance.

From fairy tale to action fantasy: In an implausibly brief couple of scenes—sweat-beaded blips—Slim shapes up with a martial-arts regimen and is transformed into a sleek, underdressed woman warrior. Her fingers are weighed with rings that serve as brass knuckles in battle or, one supposes, costume jewelry in peace. But when this empowered Lopez emerges from the shadows to taunt Campbell, her voice is still tinny and small, no more commanding than if she were ordering takeout by cell phone. As for Campbell, he tightens his neck chords and puckers his mouth into an angry little moue. (PG-13)

Bottom Line: Too much