By Nell Minow,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Well-made but grisly thriller is not for kids.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Positive Role Models
Smart, dedicated female detective.
Violence & Scariness
Grisly dead body, characters killed, shooting, tension, peril.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Naked dead body.
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Very strong language ("f--k" and "s--t").
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Characters drink a lot.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this 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.
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Where to Watch
Based on 6 parent reviews
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Underrated Nolan Film
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What's the Story?
Detective Dormer (Al Pacino) 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, brought in for his expertise, meets eager young Nightmute detective Ellie Burr (Hilary Swank) who 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. Dormer struggles being in Alaska looks at a time of year when it is light all night long. Images of light and darkness haunt him 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 killers and their eradication. It turns out that he and the killer will have a connection that, like the midnight sun, will keep him awake.
Is It Any Good?
Like his previous film Memento, director Christopher Nolan's thoughtful thriller has many dualities and counterpoints and an impaired main character. We cannot always trust what we see through Dormer's eyes, nor can Dormer. 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.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can 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?
- In theaters: May 24, 2002
- On DVD or streaming: October 15, 2002
- Cast: Al Pacino, Hilary Swank, Robin Williams
- Director: Christopher Nolan
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Genre: Thriller
- Run time: 118 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- Last updated: June 3, 2023
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