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Insomnia

Year: 2002
Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Al Pacino, Robin Williams, Hilary Swank, Martin Donovan
You can quite easily pass over cop thrillers until they're on video for two reason - without the big, loud impact of action of the other fantastic genres, you don't lose the drama on the small screen.

The other reason is they're a dime a dozen. And when Al Pacino is playing a damaged cop, you wonder if there's any other kind of character he can play (like De Niro's endless portrayal of mobsters).

But watching him work his mastery over emotion and his face and body to portray such real, raw emotion and expression is always a pleasure, and Christopher Nolan (who turns in a much more straightforward but powerful story than in Momento) weaves a tragic and harrowing tale.

Called with his partner to a far northern US town in the endless summer daytime of Alaska to investigate a local murder, Will Dormer (Pacino) is enmeshed in his own undoing. The IA has been hunting him back home and his partner is about to talk. When Dormer shoots and kills his partner pursuing the killer, he covers it up, and we're left wondering if he meant it. Problem is, the killer (Williams) sees, and - convinced he doesn't deserve to go down for his crime of beating a local teenage girl to death because he didn't mean it - he blackmails Dormer into silence.

Steadily going mad for lack of sleep and guilt at the deeper mess he's getting into, Dormer goes along, hiding the truth from his awed colleagues (personified by adoring cop/student Swank) and getting deeper into the twisted psychotic logic of his nemesis.

The big surprise is Williams in his first chilling bad guy role as the writer/murderer Finch, who portrays a congenial man with a thin veil of twitching, creepy lunatic just underlying the surface so perfectly. Watching Dormer and Finch work out the details of their conspiracy on the ferry you realise you're watching two masters, and Williams stands up to Pacino's performance fully.

Almost a boxing match of acting talent, however, as the days pass and Dormer has hasn't slept in the endless sunlight, Pacino so perfectly portrays a man driven to madness for want to sleep - in his voice, his movements and his whole being.

A classic of talented acting and directing lifts what was a fairly simple plot and could have been the kind of cop thriller I was afraid of in lesser hands.

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