This thrilling drama draws you in to the mind of a detective deprived of sleep, burdened by guilt and dazed by the endless sunlight in far northern Alaska – and it’s a gripping crime story to boot!
From the mind behind Memento comes another film that deals with loaded psychological issues. The hook here is the setting – the town of Nightmute, Alaska, where the sun shines 24/7 in the warmer months. The issues are ones visited by Nolan time and again - guilt, justice, responsibility. Al Pacino plays Will Dormer, a detective of legendary stature sent north to assist local police on a particularly puzzling case, while back in LA he is under the scrutiny of Internal Affairs.
The film is basically a straightforward crime drama until half an hour in, when a chase through the Alaskan fog leads to an accident that changes the course of the investigation, and the film. The majority of the film deals with Wills struggle against the murderer, Walter Finch, despite his deteriorating state as he fails to sleep, night after night.
The performances here are fantastic, particularly Al Pacino as the bad-ass cop slowly coming apart and Robin Williams as a surprisingly chilling villain. The editing is nice, with recurring flashbacks that add to the mystery and atmosphere, especially the very creepy extreme close-up of blood drops soaking through a piece of fabric. For lovers of crime films, this is a must-watch thriller, with heavy atmosphere and surprising plot turns.
The film is rife with surprises and memorable moments; most notably the fog chase, the death of Hap, Dormers interrogations of Tanya and Randy – as well as the quiet moments; the recurring images of blood, the reveal of their significance, the reveal of Walters tape recorder and the moment when the innkeeper turns on the light in Wills room.
What struck me was the way the film deals with concept of heroes, their mistakes, and the relationship between mentors and their followers. Will is idolised by Ellie, just as Walter is idolised by Kay. The two admirers have the privilege of meeting their heroes, both of which are dangerously flawed. Walter took advantage of the fact that he had such a fervent admirer; enjoying her company and her looks, giving her things and promising her things that never seemed high in his priorities. He dismissed her writing and her ambition, and walked a fine line between lust and love that ultimately led him to murder her.
Will, on the other hand, does not compromise his principles, even when Ellies eagerness to please could have been used to his advantage. He insists that she double check her report – knowing that the real facts could incriminate him. He understands that she admires him because she wants to be like him, and by having her turn in a flawed report, he is dashing her hopes to progress as far as him; and tainting her with an attitude that ultimately led to his own downfall. Ultimately, he commends her to keep the evidence that will destroy his reputation, but keep her principles intact. And although exposing him will risk putting criminals back on the street, Dormer recognizes that it was his own fault for compromising his own principles in the first place.