Al Pacino, Robin Williams, Hilary Swank

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Insomnia may indeed keep you up nights, but for all the right reasons. A smart, intricately constructed thriller, the film has far more on its mind than just who done it. There's enough here in terms of complex characters, themes and symbolism to fuel postmoviegoing discussions way into the wee hours. Start with the fact that the sleep-deprived protagonist is named Will Dormer, which seems an obvious play on dormir, French for "to sleep."

Dormer (Pacino), a celebrated Los Angeles police detective, and his partner (Martin Donovan) fly to a small Alaska town to help investigate the bludgeoning death of a 17-year-old girl. Upon seeing how carefully the killer has groomed the corpse, Dormer deduces that the murderer is a first-timer but one who will strike again. "This guy crossed the line and he didn't even blink," Dormer says. "You don't come back from that."

Dormer soon crosses the line himself when he accidentally—or is it?—shoots his partner while chasing the murder suspect in a fog-bound forest. Plagued by guilt over his partner's death, drawn into a battle of wits with a crafty killer and unable to sleep because of the midnight sun that shines brightly 24 hours a day during Alaska's brief warm season, Dormer begins to unravel. What makes Insomnia so compelling is that it is as much a character study of his psychological collapse as it is a police thriller.

This should come as no surprise considering that the film, a remake of a 1997 Norwegian movie of the same name, is directed by Christopher Nolan, who last year served up the nifty, backward-running psychological thriller Memento. Here he deftly maneuvers both his big-name cast and the film's complicated storytelling (newcomer Hillary Seitz wrote the script).

Pacino is in top form, his grizzled visage and weary eyes evidence of Dormer's having made one too many compromises in his career. Williams, playing a mystery writer involved in the case, provides a commendably reserved turn as a repressed misfit. And Swank, as an eager-beaver local cop who's helping Dormer, holds her own in august company. (R)

Bottom Line: Alarmingly good


Jennifer Lopez, Billy Campbell

The one welcome twist in this revenge melodrama is how nicely director Michael Apted underplays the setup. The world seems flooded with pearly sunlight as a waitress named Slim (Lopez) meets and marries Mitch (Campbell), a rich construction magnate. The scenes unfold with the orderly simplicity of an American domestic fairy tale. Then Slim discovers that Mitch has a mistress—and that he thinks it within his rights to knock his wife down if she objects. Slim escapes, taking their daughter, but Mitch keeps up the abuse long-distance.

From fairy tale to action fantasy: In an implausibly brief couple of scenes—sweat-beaded blips—Slim shapes up with a martial-arts regimen and is transformed into a sleek, underdressed woman warrior. Her fingers are weighed with rings that serve as brass knuckles in battle or, one supposes, costume jewelry in peace. But when this empowered Lopez emerges from the shadows to taunt Campbell, her voice is still tinny and small, no more commanding than if she were ordering takeout by cell phone. As for Campbell, he tightens his neck chords and puckers his mouth into an angry little moue. (PG-13)

Bottom Line: Too much

Stallion of the Cimarron


The following review by Ginger, a retired circus pony who gives rides in our daycare center, was dictated using a code of hoof heats (for the alphabet) and neighs (punctuation).

The level of realism is very impressive in this cartoon about a wild mustang in the Old West. For once, the animals do not talk (and they don't have cute names). "Well," some humans may carp, "if this mustang can't speak, why are his thoughts narrated aloud by Matt Damon?" But this too is true to nature. All horses' internal voices sound just like Matt Damon's. On the other hoof, Bryan Adams's soft-rock ballads go down like nettles in a feed bag. Quadrupeds prefer vintage British pop. Lulu, for instance.

Still, let us not look a gift horse in the mouth. The animation is colorful and fluid, the many action scenes are both bold and neatly worked out, and the moral themes—-freedom, ecology—-are worthy without being laid on too thick.—-T.G. (G)

Bottom Line: Mane event

Jeremy Davies, Billy Zane

Roman Coppola, the 37-year-old son of Francis Ford Coppola, makes his writing and directing debut with this playful but muddled homage to other giants of cinema--especially the French new wave, whose films were giddy with an elegant disregard for old rules. Working in Paris in 1969, an American film editor (the squirmily observant Davies) is put in charge of a campy futuristic adventure that looks like Barbarella. He must cook up a new ending for this romp while shooting his own home movie, which documents his affair with a flight attendant. He: "I just want to capture what's real and honest." She: "What if it's boring?" Ah! CQ is a movie so into movies, the audience feels superfluous, the third wheel on a hot date.--T.G. (R)

Bottom Line: New wave bye-bye About a Boy Hugh Grant gives a terrific performance—-dapper but with a hint of despair—-as a swinging Londoner who realizes his amorous games aren't much fun anymore. Nicholas Hoult is the troubled boy who sets the playboy straight. (PG-13)

Changing Lanes Green light. An involving drama about the bruising battle of wills between a hotshot lawyer (Ben Affleck) and a salesman (Samuel L Jackson) after a minor car collision. (R)

The Importance of Being Earnest The Oscar Wilde comedy, a masterpiece of Victorian parlor-room fluff, jollied up with vulgar visits to tattoo parlors and gambling clubs. Despite a cast that includes Reese Witherspoon, we are not amused. (PG)

Spider-Man A lot of fun, though it's better when Spidey (Tobey Maguire) is out of tights than in 'em. (PG-13)

Star Wars: Episode II—-Attack of the Clones The latest installment has a spectacular final third. But Hayden Christensen, as the young Darth Vader, is like Kirk Cameron in space. (PG)

Unfaithful Steamy thriller about adultery from Adrian Lyne (Fatal Attraction). As the straying wife, Diane Lane goes full-throttle. As the wronged husband, Richard Gere goes nowhere. (R)

  • Contributors:
  • Tom Gliatto.