Review Date:
Director: Christopher Nolan
Writer: Hilary Seitz
Producers: Paul Junger Witt, Broderick Johnson
Al Pacino as Will Dormer, Robin Williams as Walter Finch, Hilary Swank as Ellie Burr
A veteran L.A. detective and his partner are called into a small Alaskan town to investigate the murder of a teenage girl. Once there, the lead officer finds himself caught up in his own personal issues, twice compounded by phone calls from the chief suspect in the case, as well as his own battle with insomnia. Detective stuff ensues.
A small-town thriller which captured me whole with its picturesque settings, its tremendous directing, its surprising, sturdy and effective story, but mostly, its lead character, played with resonating aplomb, by the consistently entertaining: Al Pacino. Mind you, it wasn’t just his performance that grabbed me by the nuts and asked me to cough this time around, it was his actual character as well, his plight and ultimately, his deep-rooted moral impasse. From the looks of this film’s lousy ass “give-away” trailer, I was expecting something along the lines of the lame MURDER BY NUMBERS, despite the high-caliber pedigree attached. What I got instead was a play on the old murder mystery, with much of the focus being turned towards the detective, instead of the killer. I also appreciated how the story didn’t make anything cut and dry. No super good guys or insanely maniacal bad guys. There were a lot of things said and decisions made which really could have gone either way, depending on how you looked or felt about the situation. I’m obviously not going to give away any details of the central dilemma here, but suffice it to say that the job of any good detective, is never an easy one. Sometimes there are easier ways to do things, which might not be altogether ethical, and then there are the “safer”, more professional ways of handling cases, which a lot of times don’t get the job done as effectively.

I also loved how the director played with the fact that this Alaskan town’s sun never set, in combination with the lead detective’s own mind games and even more so, with his inability to sleep. I actually liked Pacino’s performance even more for that very reason, because you really got a sense of the man losing himself in the ongoing drowsiness of his day to day. The symbolism of the sleep deprivation, the case in question and his mindset, all lend further weight to the story. The directing was also extremely important to those scenes, and Nolan smartly emphasized certain sounds, movements and hallucinations as the film (and the detective’s condition) moved forward. All of that combined made for an engaging thriller, which despite not having the greatest mastermind “villain” in the world, managed to weave one man’s moral dilemma into a fascinating mystery case, with a sound message and poignant ending. Hilary Swank is also to be noted as the rookie detective who did a great job of acting “green” and looking damn cute. I wouldn’t suggest this film to anyone who is looking for thrills or chills, since that’s really not what it’s about, but if you enjoy taut murder mysteries with deep character predicaments and the catch-22 nature of any plot, this film will likely appeal to your tastes. I also like it when I come out of a theater and still wonder about the characters’ real motivations and actions. It leaves more room for your own interpretation and since not everything in life is either black or white, it’s nice to see a movie giving us that same option on the screen. PS: Don’t go in expecting MEMENTO!!!

(c) 2021 Berge Garabedian




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