Disgraced Swedish detective Jonas Engström (Stellan Skarsgård) travels to northern Norway to solve a brutal murder in Insomnia. Unable to sleep through the night of the midnight sun, Engström quickly loses his grip on the ... more »case and his mind. Erik Skjoldbjærg's debut feature is a deft amalgam of psychological thriller, morality play, and police procedural. Criterion presents the DVD premiere of Insomnia in a new widescreen transfer.« less
A Film Noir in Broad Daylight: Gripping Thriller from Norway
Tsuyoshi | Kyoto, Japan | 12/25/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"A dead body of brutally killed teenage girl was found, and her body, it becomes clear soon, is washed carefully all over. An ace detective is sent to the crime scene to invesigate this unusual case with his partner, but the invesigation gets more complex when Jonas, the detective, takes one wrong step in doing his job. And the killer seems to know his fatal mistake.The original "Insomnia" made in Norway and directed by Norwegian Erik Skjoldbjaerg, is no "Se7en"-like thriller. And it is also different from the remake by Christopher Nolan in its overall tone. The original gives colder and more sinisier feeling behind the cool mask of the detecive, which is gradually enhanced by the never-ending, dazzling daylight around the North Pole that goes on around the clock. Like any good noir, the film offers many surprises in the story, making the protagonist cross over the thin line between good and evil. Sorry that I cannot tell you much, but I can say that the acting of Stellan Skarsgard, who tends to be typecast in Hollywood films (see "Deep Blue Sea" or "Ronin" -- though I like films themselves), is nothing but compelling and stunning. A bit more subdued than Al Pacino, he delivers a chilling portrait of detective Jonas, who slowly gets unsure of what he is doing under the broad daylight.As a film fan, you may enjoy the difference of the two scripts, this one and that of Nolan's "Insonmia." (Don't worry, this is no spoiler.) I do not judge which is better -- the verdict is very hard to give as both are so good. But I can point out that Nolan gets his film more complex, giving more room for the role of a female local cop (which Hilary Swank played in the remake), partly because of Nolan's penchant for storytelling. Actually, I was surprised to find out that Norwegian "Insomnia" is about 30 minutes shorter than Hollywood remake. And see also the different treatment of some key scenes (especially a dog, and the conclusion of the case), which may reflect the present political climate in USA. If you haven't seen Al Pacino remake, do not worry. If you like noir genre, this is the one for you."
Criterion picks another winner
Brint Conley | Cincinnati, Ohio USA | 08/19/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Beautiful, original, and 360 degrees from Hollywood. I bought this disc simply becasue it was a Criterion edition which I have come to view as some of the best product on the market. Aside from, that I had no background information on the film. What a shock then to see first time director Skjoldbjaerg's beautiful and original rendering of the classic murder thriller. No, this film is not very suspensful in that the killer is identified early on, but the psychological trauma and emotion portayed on Skarsgard's face is powerful. Add to that the stark, harsh background, captured in various shades of brightness, and the offbeat cuts and camera angles that would make Kurosawa proud, and this is a masterpiece that should rank right up with "Silence of the Lambs" and "Usual Suspects.""
A Whiter Shade of Fear
Dark Trippers | 03/05/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"View this compelling Norwegian psychodrama as the antithesis of 'Se7en'. Here, instead of deep dark shadows and grey sheets of rain, we have white shouding mists, perpetual daylight, fades-to-white. A film blanc perhaps. But that's not to say this is a light film, it is perhaps one of the darkest in subject matter we've seen. The light is toxic, almost tangible, nausea-inducing. The acting and cinematography are excellent throughout, the narrative involving. The fine line between psychopath and pathologist (and indeed between art and reality) is sufficiently blurred to render this film almost amoral, but is made all the more interesting for it.The Criterion Collection has little in the way of extras, but the picture is pinsharp (although there is evidence of digital disturbance at one point)and the soundstage well positioned. Don't watch the extended menu, however, as it shows you absolutely everything in the film."
A Bit More Mystery Here.....
Archmaker | California | 12/13/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"There are two excellent versions of this story out now, the American one with a terrific Al Pacino performance, and this original Norwegian version with a terrific performance by Stellan Skarsgard. Both have their strong and weak points, and while sharing a similar story they diverge quite dramatically in their overall atmosphere, philosophical take, and in several key plot elements.In many ways, I prefer this version. There is a subtle bleached-out look to this film, bathed in the never setting Midnight Sun. Skarsgard doesn't wear his insomnia on his sleeve, but we watch him unravel from it and from the stress of covering his tragic error. Pacino is great with those huge puppy eyes bloodshot and bleary from sleeplessness, but the American film provides more subtext to his error which may or may not be an improvement to the viewer. To me, I preferred the European, less clearly motivated action.The great divide is the climax of the film. In the Norwegian version, things happen by accident and happenstance, and then have to be dealt with. In the American version, much of the action is relentlessly determined from Pacino's subtext problem. It then spins itself out with the logic and predictability of most American films, and of course, all is resolved in the end with a bullet. The European take is much more surprising in that it is open to chance and accident. The byplay between detective and killer is more specific with Pacino & Williams, but also effectively carried more of the drama.In the end we see two different men, Al Pacino a burnt-out man with troubles, and Stellan Skarsgard a hollow and troubled man with a problem. The one leads to finality, the other to ambiguity. Take your choice. I like ambiquity."
Darker and More Intelligent Version
K. Wilson | Chicago, USA | 08/02/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Within the first thirty seconds of watching Insomnia you get the impression that it is one of those Criterion releases which is worth the higher DVD price. Opening with a grainy montage reminiscent of Seven, Norwegian Erik Skjoldbjaerg's impressive directorial debut is a darker and more intelligent film that the later remake starring Al Pacino of which Americans are familiar.
The original Insomnia stars Stellan Skarsgard as Jonas Engstrom, a disgraced but talented Swedish detective. After being caught in an "intimate conversation" with a witness, he seeks a transfer to Norway as a means to escape the scandal threatening his career. Along with his partner, he is sent to investigate the murder of a 17-year-old girl in Tromso, a small Norwegian town above the arctic circle.
One of the greatest distinctions between the two film versions is the depiction of the central character. The original film isn't scared to show us a darker side of the detective. Unlike the later toned down depiction, he's far less likeable, and at times cruel and self-serving. Ultimately, this dark anti-hero proves to be a more convincing vessel for the film's theme of disintegration.
Engstrom is suffering from a severe bout of insomnia, caused by the unrelenting 24 hour sunshine in Tromso. The film's near monotone visuals reflect his distorted perspectives as sleep deprivation takes its toll. After accidentally shooting his partner, he panics, making a series of disturbing decisions calculated to deflect suspicion from himself. He hopes to blame his partner's death on the killer they were pursuing when the accident occurred.
Unfortunately, the killer has witnessed the shooting and knows the truth. Using this information to his advantage, he forces Engstrom to embark on a sinister game of cat and mouse. As Engstrom is drawn further into a web of deception, he begins to morally decay before our eyes. Tortured by his inability to sleep and guilty conscience, each moral compromise Engstrom makes further blurs the line between the himself and the murderer he is hunting.
Insomnia's strength lies in Skarsgard's low key portrayal of the detective. He was in his mid forties when he played Engstrom, yet looks much younger. His attractive, quiet demeanor masks his inner turmoil perfectly.
Not surprisingly, it was Skarsgard's powerful back-to-back performances in Lars Von Trier's Breaking the Waves and Skjoldbjaerg's Insomnia that opened the doors to a series of roles in Hollywood films. While once virtually unknown outside Scandinavia, he has since become an Internationally acclaimed actor.
The Criterion release boasts a beautiful 16x9 anamorphic transfer with good sound quality. Its lack of commentary is disappointing but it still remains a must have DVD to those that appreciate European film noir. "