Insomnia (2002 film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Produced by
Screenplay by Hillary Seitz
Based on Insomnia 
by Nikolaj Frobenius
Erik Skjoldbjærg
Music by David Julyan
Cinematography Wally Pfister
Edited by Dody Dorn
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures
Release dates
  • May 3, 2002 (2002-05-03) (New York City)
  • May 24, 2002 (2002-05-24) (United States)
Running time
118 minutes[1]
Country United States[2]
Language English
Budget $46 million[3]
Box office $113.7 million[3]

Insomnia is a 2002 American crime film directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Al Pacino, Robin Williams, and Hilary Swank. It tells the story of two Los Angeles homicide detectives investigating a murder in an Alaskan town. A remake of the 1997 Norwegian film of the same name, Insomnia was released on May 24, 2002, to critical acclaim and commercial success, grossing $113 million worldwide. To date, this is the only film that Christopher Nolan has directed without receiving at least a share of one of the writing credits, even though he wrote the final draft of the script.


In the small fishing town of Nightmute, Alaska, 17-year-old Kay Connell (Crystal Lowe) is found murdered. LAPD detectives Will Dormer (Al Pacino) and Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan) are sent to assist the local police with their investigation, at the request of police chief Nyback (Paul Dooley), an old colleague of Will's.

Concurrently, an intense Internal Affairs investigation in Los Angeles is about to put Dormer under the microscope. Eckhart reveals that Internal Affairs has offered him an immunity deal in exchange for his testimony regarding one of Dormer's past cases. Eckhart says that he has no choice but to accept the deal.

Focusing on the Nightmute case, Dormer comes up with a plan to lure the murderer back to the scene of the crime. The attempt fails, however, and the suspect flees into the fog. During the pursuit, Dormer fires at a figure in the fog, only to discover that he has shot Eckhart. Given the nature of Eckhart's impending testimony, Dormer knows that Internal Affairs will never believe that the shooting was accidental, and Eckhart accuses Dormer of murdering him as he dies. Panicked, Dormer alters the crime scene before calling for help and telling the police that Eckhart was shot by the suspect. Ellie Burr (Hilary Swank), a young police officer, is put in charge of the investigation of Eckhart's shooting.

Over the next few days, Dormer is plagued by insomnia, brought on by the guilt over killing Eckhart and further exacerbated by the perpetual daylight. Dormer then starts receiving anonymous phone calls from the suspect, who claims to have witnessed Dormer kill his partner. Dormer is aware that Kay was a fan of a crime writer named Walter Finch (Robin Williams). Dormer looks up Finch's address and breaks into his apartment to gather evidence, only to be discovered by Finch himself, who gets away. Finch contacts Dormer, and offers Dormer a deal: Dormer will frame Kay's abusive boyfriend Randy Stetz (Jonathan Jackson) for the murder in exchange for Finch's silence about the Eckhart shooting.

Burr finds a 9mm shell casing at the scene, which conflicts with the bullet type believed to be found in Eckhart's body and begins to lead her toward the conclusion that Dormer has been lying about who shot Eckhart. That night, Finch calls Dormer and tells him that Kay's death was "an accident"—he beat her to death in a fit of rage after she rejected his advances. The next day, Finch, under Dormer's instruction, gives false testimony at the station, which, along with a weapon planted by Finch, effectively places blame on Randy. Finch offers to give Burr letters indicating that Randy abused Kay, and asks her to come and collect evidence from his second, isolated home the next day.

Dormer returns to his hotel for one last night, where he confides in the hotel owner, Rachel Clement (Maura Tierney) about the Internal Affairs investigation: He fabricated evidence to help convict a pedophile he was certain was guilty of murdering a child, and who would have been set free if Eckhart had testified. Clement refuses to pass judgement on Dormer, intimating that she moved to Alaska because she was "getting away from something".

Upon returning to Finch's apartment, Dormer discovers that Finch has gone to meet Burr, and realizes that Finch intends to kill her after finding Kay's letters were in the apartment. Finch knocks Burr unconscious. Dormer eventually reaches the cabin, but is too disoriented to fight off Finch from lack of sleep. Burr saves Dormer from Finch, who flees; she then holds Dormer at gunpoint, revealing that she knows he shot Eckhart. Dormer admits that he shot his partner, but says he is no longer certain if it was an accident. From his shed, Finch shoots at them, and Burr returns fire, allowing Dormer to sneak around to Finch's location. A struggle ensues in which Finch and Dormer shoot each other, killing the former and mortally wounding the latter.

Burr rushes to Dormer's aid, and then comforts him by affirming that Eckhart's shooting was accidental, and begins to throw away the shell casing evidence to preserve Dormer's secret. Dormer stops Burr, telling her not to lose her way, before he dies muttering he just wanted to sleep. After a brief moment of contemplation, Burr slips the shell casing back into its plastic evidence bag.



Insomnia was well received by critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 92% based on a sample of 190 reviews, with a weighted mean score of 7.7/10.[4] On Metacritic, the film holds an average score of 78 out of 100, based on 36 reviews.[5]

Lou Lumenick of the New York Post gave the film an enthusiastic review, calling it a "four-course gourmet alternative to summer popcorn flicks, serving up the meatiest performances Al Pacino and Robin Williams have given in many years." Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times noted that "Unlike most remakes, the Nolan Insomnia is not a pale retread, but a re-examination of the material, like a new production of a good play."[6]

Erik Skjoldbjærg, the director of the original film, said of Nolan's reinterpretation: "Well I haven’t seen it for quite a while, but when I first saw it it was a very strange experience because it was quite close, stylistically, to the original. I felt lucky that it’s such a well crafted, smart film and that it had a really good director handling it, because as a remake I think it did really well and it doesn’t hurt any original if a remake is well done. So I felt I was lucky that Christopher Nolan took it upon himself to do it."[7]


Robert Westbrook adapted the screenplay to novel form, which was published by Alex in May 2002.[8]

Insomnia (1997 film)[edit]

Main article: Insomnia (1997 film)

Insomnia is a 1997 Norwegian thriller film about a police detective investigating a murder in a town located above the Arctic Circle. The investigation goes horribly wrong when he mistakenly shoots his partner and subsequently attempts to cover up his bungle. The title of the film refers to his inability to sleep, the result of his guilt (represented by the relentless glare of the midnight sun). Insomnia was the film debut of director Erik Skjoldbjærg. The screenplay was written by Nikolaj Frobenius and Skjoldbjærg, and the soundtrack by Geir Jenssen (alias Biosphere).


  1. ^ "INSOMNIA". British Board of Film Classification. Retrieved December 21, 2014. 
  2. ^ "Insomnia (2002)". British Film Institute. Retrieved December 21, 2014. 
  3. ^ a b "Insomnia (2002)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved August 12, 2014. 
  4. ^ "Insomnia (2002)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2014-08-12. 
  5. ^ "Insomnia (2002)". Metacritic. Retrieved 2011-08-12. 
  6. ^ Roger Ebert. "Insomnia (2002)". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2012-11-24. 
  7. ^ Paul Weedon. "Erik Skjoldbærg on 'Pioneer'". Grolsch Filmworks. Retrieved 2013-10-30. 
  8. ^ Westbrook, Robert. Insomnia. Onyx. ISBN 978-0-451-41049-8. 

External links[edit]

[[Category:Police detective films]