Insomnia

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

Detective Dormer (Al Pacino) can’t sleep. He and his partner, Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan), are LA cops on special assignment to investigate the brutal murder of a teen-age girl in tiny Nightmute Alaska. Dormer may have been brought in for his expertise – eager young Nightmute detective Ellie Burr (Hilary Swank) tells him that she did a case study on one of the crimes he solved when she was in school. But Dormer and Eckhart may have been sent to Alaska to keep them out of the way of an Internal Affairs investigation. They are investigators and subjects of investigation at the same time.

This is just the first of many dualities and counterpoints in a complex, thoughtful thriller directed by Christopher Nolan, who gave us last year’s breakthrough hit about an amnesiac searching for his wife’s killer, Memento. Like that movie, “Insomnia” has an impaired main character. We cannot always trust what we see through his eyes.

Neither can he. Shortly after arriving in Nightmute, he asks to be taken to the local high school so that he can interview the dead girl’s boyfriend. The local detectives glance at each other and explain that it is 10 o’clock. Dormer looks out the window and says, “So what?” But it is 10 PM in a time of year when it is light all night long. Images of light and darkness haunt Dormer as he tries to escape the light so he can get some sleep and as he is forced to confront a darkness within himself that draws him both to the killers and to their eradication. It turns out that he and the killer will have a connection that, like the midnight sun, will keep him awake.

Nolan uses everything — the huge frozen vistas, the disorientation of perpetual sunlight, the fog that surrounds their first glimpse of the killer, the names (Dormer is “to sleep” in French, Ellie Burr is a detective whose dedication is a constant irritant). Dormer’s lack of sleep both deconstructs and constructs him. He enters a surreal state in which he is both more and less able to rely on his judgment.

Pacino, Swank, Donovan, and Maura Tierney as a sympathetic hotel proprietor are all first-rate. The movie’s weakest point is Robin Williams in the under-written role of the killer.

Parents should know that the movie has brief but grisly violence, a nude corpse, some creepy sound effects, and some very strong language. There are tense scenes and characters are shot and killed. Characters drink and smoke.

Families who see this movie should talk about the moral compromises Dormer makes and the ways in which people have to balance the ends and the means. What will Ellie do next? Why? Why is the town named “Nightmute?” What do you think about the girl who was killed?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy No Way to Treat a Lady, Strangers on a Train and Memento.

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Crime Drama Thriller

Enemy of the State

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

This movie is what I call a “soft R,” the rating based on limited bad language and violence, but not really unsuitable for younger kids. Will Smith stars as Bobby Dean, a successful Washington lawyer, who in true thriller fashion is inadvertantly drawn into a paranoid nightmare. An old acquaintence on the run from the CIA drops a computer disk into Dean’s Christmas packages just before he is killed. Dean does not know that he has the disk, much less that the disk proves that CIA operatives killed a senator (an unbilled Jason Robards) because he opposed their plans to expand surveillance. The head of a rogue operation within the CIA (current default bad guy Jon Voight) goes after Dean, who quickly loses his job and his wife, who leaves him after she learns that he has been seeing an old girlfriend. Every aspect of Dean’s life is scrutinized by the CIA and the chase scenes are very exciting, showing their ability to track every move he makes with the use of technology from satillites to to phone logs to tiny tracers in his clothes. Parents should know that there are four-letter words, references to infidelity, and bloody scenes, but fewer than in most R movies. Families may want to talk about the issues raised by balancing the right to privacy with the need for protection.

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Action/Adventure Thriller

Run Lola Run

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

Teenagers with a taste for the offbeat will enjoy this German import about a woman who gets a frantic phone call from her boyfriend and has only 20 minutes to find 100,000 marks (about $60,000), or he will be killed by the drug dealer to whom he supposed to deliver the money. Lola (Franka Potente) and her boyfriend Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu) live in a sort of of punk post-modern demi-mondaine. The key image of the movie is Lola, with her Raggedy Ann mop of bright red hair, running to save her beloved Manni from the drug dealer, and from himself — he has threatened to hold up a store if she cannot get him the money. When she interacts with people on her way — and in her way — we sometimes get glimpses of what their lives ahead will hold.

Lola runs to her father, who works at a bank, to ask him for the money. But he has his own problems. She does not make it in time, and the result is tragic. But Lola’s determination is such that she will not let that happen. All of a sudden, we are back in her apartment and she is getting Manni’s call again. Everything starts over, this time with tiny differences that have huge consequences for Lola and Manni and for the people around them. It takes three tries before Lola’s running is over.

The movie is fun to watch, with a lot of very clever jump cuts and effects, and it can be a nice jolt for kids who are used to pedestrian big-budget film-making. Parents should know that there is some rough street language, references to out-of-wedlock pregnancy and adultery, and that the main characters live on the edge of the underworld — the money Manni leaves on a train belongs to a drug dealer. Families may want to discuss the movie’s theme about the way that the tiniest choices and interactions can have the most wide-reaching consequences.

Families who enjoy this movie will also like “Diva.”

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Action/Adventure Crime Drama Independent Thriller

Arlington Road

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

This is a very scary movie about a very scary subject — terrorism. Indeed, its release was delayed due to concerns about the sensitivity of the material. Jeff Bridges plays Michael Faraday, a professor who specializes in terrorism, still grieving for the loss of his wife, an FBI agent who was killed in a Ruby Ridge-style shootout. He is befriended by a new neighbor, Oliver Lang (Tim Robbins). At first, Lang’s family seems like an all-American family straight out of an “Up With People” concert, but Faraday begins to suspect that under their bright smiles and peppy friendship might be something very sinister.

Faraday’s friends think that he has become a little unhinged from his wife’s experience. But as he continues to investigate, he discovers more and more disturbing information about the Langs.

This movie will give thoughtful teens some things to think about — balancing the need for security against individual rights, the difficulty of deciding whom to trust, and the factors that lead to hate crimes. The references to acts of terrorism in the US that are so close to reality you will think you recognize them make this more thoughtful than the usual thriller. The very first image, of a boy walking in an immaculate suburb, bleeding from an accident, sets the stage for the unsettling story, and the ending is not only scary, but hauntingly so.

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Drama Horror Thriller
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