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Christopher Nolan’s Most Overlooked Movie is His Best Character Drama

todayDecember 30, 2021

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Christopher Nolan is one of the most widely-acclaimed and respected directors working today and is virtually the only director now who will be given top-dollar studio funding for a completely original story idea. This seems to be because Nolan has proven time and again that regardless of the story type he is working with, he has a distinctive style that captures audiences’ imaginations by his ability to create top-flight action sequences and summer blockbuster fare that both entertains and fascinates, working with mind-bending ideas about space, time, and dreams that leaves viewers thinking about the film long after it has ended. This is true from his early lower-budget work in Memento and Insomnia to his later high-octane offerings like Inception and Tenet. No matter the type of film he makes, audiences will come to see it because they know they are in for an engrossing story.

However, despite the well-earned plaudits, Nolan’s films have often been criticized for their weaknesses as much as they are praised for their strengths. While the director has an eye for breathtaking visuals and sequences, his movies are often taken to task for their lack of character development, failing to give more than passing notice to fleshing out the protagonists and focusing on the plot more than the characters. It is seen as a consistent misstep present in many of his films (though not in all of them). What is frequently missed in these reviews of Nolan’s characters, however, is his most overlooked movie and his greatest accomplishment in character drama: Insomnia.

Insomnia is a remake of a 1997 Norwegian movie of the same name and follows Will Dormer (Al Pacino), a revered L.A. cop on assignment in Alaska investigating the murder of a high school girl in a small town. As the story unfolds, the layers around Dormer’s character slowly begin to unfold, and what started as a confident and quick investigation turns into a story of deeper and deeper soul-searching behind the rapidly-deteriorating shell of Dormer’s outward persona.

One of the greatest strengths of the movie is in its restraint. There are no car chases or massive setpiece sequences, but rather a slow progression and unraveling of the case in tandem with the reveal of the dark secrets of Dormer’s past. What the audience first sees as a tough, seasoned, and hard-bitten by-the-book cop gradually gives way to a stronger foreboding that something terrible is hidden in his past.

This particular unknown past concerning “the Dobbs case” ends up enhancing the drama of the movie, as Dormer’s partner confesses that he is about to cut a deal with an internal investigation and give information to the investigator. It is only when Dormer later accidentally shoots and kills his partner in a chase in the fog, however, that he begins to question his own intentions. Though he insists it was an accident, his dying partner is convinced that Dormer intended to kill him to tie up a loose end, and his final words haunt Dormer throughout the movie until he begins to wonder himself if he actually meant to do it.

As his present is unraveling and the past is catching up to him, Dormer finds himself unable to sleep, in part due to Alaska’s perpetual daylight and in part because of his unquiet conscience; his exhaustion, and the tragedy of the story, grow proportionally as the film progresses. In order to keep all of his previous cases from unraveling and criminals from going free, he pins the murder of his partner on the suspect under investigation, and the movie subtly shows just how familiar Dormer is with illegally sneaking around behind the backs of the investigation. This, it turns out, is his dirty secret. He planted evidence in a previous case in order to catch a man who was guilty as sin but didn’t leave enough evidence to make a conviction.

The fascinating character drama drives the entire plot, due not only to Pacino’s role as Dormer but to Robin Williams’ shockingly sinister turn as Walter Finch, the murderer in Dormer’s investigation. As the only one to witness Dormer shoot his partner, Finch has an edge that he uses as leverage on Dormer to work in tandem with him to subvert the investigation. As such, the film plays with extremely rare territory: it produces a character drama in which the hero and the villain work together toward a common goal, and consequently heightens the complexity of the character by suggesting just how easily Dormer can slide into the role of the villain himself.

Source: collider.com

Written by: New Generation Radio

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todayDecember 30, 2021

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