24 May 2002 | giancarlorocks
An intense character study set against a psychological 'cat and mouse' game... that
Christopher Nolan succeeds once again at mastering a suspenseful script into a truly superb film. Nolan (Memento) creates a complex and carefully construed tale that has plenty of intentional misdirection that is quite convincing.
Al Pacino plays another one of his droopy detectives in a role that is quite unoriginal if placed in other films. Yet what separates this role from others is his portrayal of L.A. Detective Will Dormer actually has some 'meat' attached to it. Pacino plays a detective with a history of successful apprehensions, yet, he has flaws just like any other person and they come back to haunt him. Relocated from Los Angeles to Alaska, he is sent in hopes of capturing a killer who murdered a local schoolgirl.
Judging from the previews, premature assumptions can be made labeling the film as another simple 'cat-and-mouse' thriller. Instead, those conceptions will be lost soon after the haunting opening credits emerge and we are transplanted directly into a deep and complex character study set against the backdrop of a local homicide mystery in a small Alaskan town. The film's antagonist (For those who have seen the film - is he really the villain or the catalyst for Pacino's ethical debate?) is a local writer portrayed by Robin Williams. This is Williams' second villainous role in his trilogy of films (Death to Smoochy, One Hour Photo) that aims at diversifying his resume. Williams impresses as he juxtaposes between an innocent victim of a mishap and between a calculating and conniving murderer.
Director Nolan has assembled a terrific cast as this complex plot unfolds at a frivolous rate. This is a film that a discerning viewer will admire and a viewer with a short attention span will loathe. Nolan tosses us with one set of objectives and midway through the first act, we are sitting in on an entirely different film. Adjectives such as formulaic and conventional should not be associated with a film such as this. Nolan has completely revitalized the tired genre of the murder thriller with his sleek direction and picturesque photography.
Nolan first had conceived of the idea upon viewing a Norwegian film of the same name directed by Erik Skjoldbjaerg. Nolan seems to have taken the flaws of the original and improved upon them in a sleek feat of filmmaking that leaves much to be questioned about its' brilliance. One viewing is not enough to internalize the level of sophistication Nolan has created with this brilliant film.
Hillary Seitz's first attempt at writing a screenplay is solid but must be understood that the conception was not hers. Still, her script contains some juicy scenes that benefit all our characters in this film. Three Oscar winners (Pacino, Williams and Hillary Swank) highlight this film and with good reason. At first glance, the cast seems informingly incongruent, yet with time, all explains itself. Swank's performance as Detective Burr seems unnecessary right up until the final moments in the film. Yet, this is all of the resolute brilliance Nolan lends to this film.
This film succeeds on several levels of cinematic bravura. David Julyan's haunting score coupled with intense subliminal flashes match the films' dark tone and Cinematographer Wally Pfister (Memento) captures the majestic beauty of the Alaskan sea front.
As aforementioned, a thrilling chase of a murderer can be expected when introduced to the film. But not long after, we are delving into a debate that has a positive fix on morality. A battle between a person's conscience and his actions are truly at the forefront of this intellectually intriguing and complex thriller. Despite its' disappointing anticlimactic finale, the film still has enough zest and brilliance to make this film a true testament to the skill of Director Nolan.
Giancarlo's Rating: ***