(2002) Does the end justify the means if one can live with the knowledge? Director Christopher Nolan's sleepless-in-Alaska mystery thriller, screenplay adapted by Hillary Seitz, was based on the film of the same title directed by Erik Skjoldbjærg, which he co-wrote with Nikolaj Frobenius.
Two cops from LA - detectives Will Dormer (Al Pacino) and Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan) - fly up to Nightmute, Alaska, the halibut fishing capital, to assist with the murder investigation of a 17-year-old girl. They are greeted by young detective Ellie Burr (Hilary Swank), who enormously admires Dormer, having studied his cases at the police academy.
Examination of Kay Connell's body reveals her having been beaten to death, but not sexually penetrated, and then - no indication of panic or passion - carefully washed, including clipping her fingernails.
Dormer and Eckhart had left LA during an Internal Affairs investigation that had been putting "the big squeeze" on Hap to get at Will, suspected of planting evidence; when Hap tells Will, "I gotta cut a deal," the senior partner reacts with disgust and distrust.
This far north in the summer, white nights are the norm; there's no darkness. Eager to learn tips from her hero, Ellie pays close attention when Dormer emphasizes the importance of small stuff, little lies and minor mistakes. First to be interrogated is Kay's boyfriend, Randy Stetz, a local teenage tough, who admits getting in a fight and hitting her because she wouldn't tell him about the other guy she was seeing.
Kay's bag is recovered with school books, her diary, and a paperback novel. The cops substitute other books into the bag, return it to the waterside cabin where it had been found, and wait for the killer to come back for it; but when someone shows up, he escapes through a hidden hatch in the floor.
In hot pursuit, Will and a local officer, Farrell Brooks, find themselves in a tunnel leading out to a foggy shore; then Brooks goes down with a bullet through his leg while Will lurches ahead and fires at a figure in the mist. It's Hap; but Will, retrieving the revolver dropped by the man he'd been chasing, keeps the truth of the incident to himself.
Ellie gets assigned investigation of the shooting, which she pursues with respectful diligence; Will - his feelings a confusion of guilt and relief that no one can testify against him - switches bullets as evidence from Hap's death. Having difficulty sleeping from the "crazy light," his conscience, and puzzling over the murder case, Will receives a phone call from a stranger: "I saw you shoot your partner."
From Kay's best friend Tanya, scaring her on a drive to the dump where Kay's body had been found, Will extracts a name for the secret, special guy who'd made gifts of jewelry and an expensive dress, though it's not the man's actual name.
Again the stranger phones, asking Will - "Why couldn't you tell anyone you shot him?" - followed by a suggestion that they have something in common: "I got the same problem … not a murderer any more than you are."
Using a clue from Tanya, Will (staying a few steps ahead of Ellie and the others) makes a connection between the paperback in Kay's bag and Walter Finch (Robin Williams), who resides not far away in Umkumiut. "We're in the same situation here," Walter poses to Will, struggling to maintain his focus after several sleepless nights, on a ferry ride: "Doesn't mean you did it on purpose."
As the two secretly engage in a game of hazard, one wagering his life against the other's reputation, they parry with wild cards - the revolver, a tape recorder, Kay's dress - that could expose the other.
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