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Friday, 9 December 2016

Retro Movie Review: Insomnia (2002) #RobinWilliams

Cast: Al Pacino, Robin Williams, Hilary Swank, Maura Tierney
Genre: Psychological thriller 
Worldwide Box Office Gross: $113 million 

Plot:  Two Alaskan homicide detectives investigate a murder in an Alaskan town

'Unconventional Movie Role For Williams As The Bad Guy In A Somewhat Good Thriller, If Not A Standard Williams-type Movie' 

I do enjoy watching thrillers from time to time and though it is not a type of genre one would associate the name of Robin Williams with, being a fan of his works I saw this when it was on TV a couple of years ago. In Insomnia, a body of a young girl is found and discovered by two detectives, with a writer, named Walter Finch played by Williams, linked as a suspect to the case and as a potential killer. 

And alas, his role is so incredibly unlike any of the previous characters he has undertaken before. Though it is great to see him show his range and branch out towards other character roles, just seeing him as the main villain here, surprised me a great deal. His performance was great, but his character is too generic, far too efficient, not to mention unsavoury, to say the least. 

Walter is a writer, who has a sinister past that he doesn't let up that easily. But for all of his bad guy efforts in One Hour Photo, Death To Smoochy and this film, much like with Julia Roberts, I just cannot picture Robin Williams as a truly and utterly convincing villain in a movie, - & neither of them as performers possesses more of the threat that is required to be able to play the evil nemesis role that well. Simply put, as an actor & based on his past roles, he lacks the heightened menace to carry it off. Unless Williams was cast as The Joker or Riddler in the Batman movies, whereby those roles also play on his comedic abilities. 

His turns in One Hour PhotoInsomnia, Death To Smoochy, The Angriest Man In Brooklyn, The Final Cut heralded a new chapter in Robin's career beginning in the early 2000s onwards, as he made more unconventional film roles choices. Some have been successful; whereas with the others, it wasn't so successful. Did Robin display convincing performances in Insomnia and One Hour Photo? Absolutely. Insofar as the antagonist characters he has played however, I find it hard to see Robin as a creepy bad guy, especially given the previous films he has starred and appeared in has been light-hearted comedies where he plays buffoonish and funny family-orientated characters. He is too subtle. If anything, I'd have like to have seen someone else, like Kevin Bacon or Michael Wincott for instance, as Walter in place of Robin: either of them would've provided the film with more punch and intimidation, as well as they, would've intensified the suspense aspect more. Yet as dark and abhorrent Walter Finch is, as the villain, I'd really wished they'd gave Robin's version of this character more dimension and who is less generic as he comes across onscreen. 

I noticed that a lot of people have mentioned that in this film, Robin Williams finally shows his range as a talented actor with more range than the Patch Adams and Mrs Doubtfire roles he's undertaken- and yet these same people have virtually ignored his wonderful performances in Good Morning, Vietnam, Dead Poets Society, Awakenings, The Fisher King, Good Will Hunting. I ask what rock have they been living under? If they are judging Robin Williams's acting performances purely and solely on this film and One Hour Photo, then I'd say they need to rewatch those hits of his I've mentioned. Robin was great in this film, performance wise, but, for me, he did it far better in Dead Poets, Awakenings, Good Will Hunting, The Fisher King, Good Morning Vietnam

And though I realise a lot of people in general, enjoyed it when Robin took on the role of Walter Finch and successfully manages to get under their skin with ease, I believe that anyone else could have easily played that character (hence, back to my point about Kevin Bacon). 

Al Pacino, on the other hand, was as good as he usually is as the cop, although in a way, it is no more different to his roles in Sea of Love and Heat. Hilary Swank was all right as Dormer's partner in crime as the pair of them try to find the girl's killer, though I felt her part was too minimal and that her character should've had more influence in the film. As Dormer is on the trail of the killer, his attempts are impacted by his insomnia, as he becomes frayed, tired and strung out. The casting overall is an eclectic mix of Academy Award-winning actors, of whom one wouldn't picture in a movie such as this, together. But their characters are void of personality. 

The story got more interesting and became more involving towards the last 15 mins or so of the film, yet everything else leading up until that point was a long, hard and at times, convoluted and mundane slog. Because of the pacing, events was building up in dribs and drabs and as a result, I lost interest at times. Insomnia is also based on the Scandinavian version of the original movie, which I've read was a lot more chilling, dark and shocking in places, compared to this version by Christopher Nolan. Insomnia reminds me a lot of Se7en with Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman - only with much fewer shocks, lacking unique elements and with even less gore. By having a thriller where characterisation-wise, the antagonist comes across on-screen as the more interesting & complex character ahead of the leading protagonists, doesn't do the film any favours either. 

The film moves very slowly, or make that too slowly with many drawn-out scenes and not enough jaw-dropping moments that made a huge impact on me, and with that in mind and a usually predictable ending, Insomnia suffers somewhat when it becomes a little too mundane & stilted, and thus lacking the emotional heart to make the desired impact Nolan wanted for the audience. Insomnia was lucky to have ridden on a crest of a wave back in 2002, as by today's standards it feels timid compared to Christopher Nolan's latter movies. 

But it is also not a Robin Williams movie that I'd watch regularly alongside Hook, Good Morning Vietnam, Aladdin and many others. 


Pros +

- Very good performances all round

- Some good tension and suspense

- Interesting premise 


- Slow pacing of the story and story should have been a lot more interesting 

- Still find it difficult to picture Robin Williams in his role as the antagonist

- Film wasn't as shocking as it made itself out to be & lacks emotional heart 

Final Verdict:

Insomnia overpromises and yet under delivers when it comes to the goods. Despite the sure-fire rave reviews and millions of dollars generated at the box office, it is a film that will appeal to two different sets of audiences, as opposed to everyone. It is an acquired taste and though it is nice to see Robin in a different type of character role, it is also not one that many fans especially will get used to. I included. That, it's difficult to picture him as a convincing villain. Insomnia is not a film for everyone and not for every Robin Williams fan. & that is fine. 

This film, if you take away Pacino, Williams and Swank, would be below average- even with Nolan at the helm and yet with them in it, it manages to be watchable, if not fully enthralling and engaging as it ought to have been. The story is straightforward but not very compelling and there is nothing new that we haven't seen before in other thrillers. 

As far as Robin Williams's performance goes, he is great & he definitely shows his range as a character actor; but in the eyes of many fans, and mines too, Walter Finch, is not a memorable, nor likeable character. And for us Robin Williams fans, well I anyway, prefer him playing likeable characters. & dare I say it that, hand on heart, he wasn't the ideal choice as the villain. 

If, however, you are a fan of his and want to see him in a completely different role, then Insomnia is worth getting. But if you prefer nice guy, cheery, fun-loving Robin Williams more, better stick with the likes of Mrs Doubtfire, Mork & Mindy, Hook, Good Will Hunting, Aladdin. 


*As a general thriller

*As a standard Robin Williams film 

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