Blu-ray Edition

Film review by Gordon Justesen
Technical specs by Michael Jacobson

Stars: Al Pacino, Robin Williams, Hilary Swank, Maura Tierney, Martin Donovan, Nicky Katt, Paul Dooley
Director: Christopher Nolan
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 118 Minutes
Release Date: July 13, 2010

“Let me sleep...”

Film ****

Christopher Nolan may just be the hottest director on the rise since Quentin Tarantino. Rarely does a relatively new and young filmmaker strike gold twice in the sole span of a year. Nolan has, as his first film was the masterful and original noir thriller Memento, which enjoyed a quiet little success for its indie status, as Nolan caught the eye of major studios. For his follow up feature, a task difficult for a director of a movie as great as Memento, Nolan has made a rare accomplishment, which is remaking a relatively known thriller which has resulted in a version that can completely stand on its own. It has been said that good movies should never be redone, because the result is often an insult to the original material. That is not the case, however, with Nolan’s Insomnia, which is a remarkably chilling and effective thriller as you’ll ever see.

The movie also has the bonus of delivering three stellar performances from three greatly gifted actors, including a sinister turn from an actor you’d least expect to have. Al Pacino creates another fantastic characterization as Will Dormer, a veteran LA detective who has been assigned, along with his partner, Hap (Martin Donovan), to aid authorities in a small Alaskan town in the investigation of a teenage girl’s brutal murder. Dormer’s reason for working away from his jurisdiction comes as the result of a tension-laced Internal Affairs investigation back home. It’s safe to say that Dormer and Hap need to elude the spotlight of the situation. Worsening the pressure is when Hap confesses to his veteran partner that he has just cut a deal with I.A., which will possibly free any criminals that Dormer locked up when not playing by the rules.

The two cops soon arrive in the small town, appropriately called Nightmute, where upon the sun never sets in the summertime. After examining the body and coming across a bag of items belonging to the deceased girl, Dormer intends to set a trap for the suspect, along with the assistance of local cop Ellie Burr (Hilary Swank). Staking out the location of the killing, the suspect is spotted and pursued by Dormer through a much foggy shoreline, causing the weary-eyed cop to fire a shot at who he thinks is the suspect, but it turns out to be his partner. Now the cop has to deal with covering up the accidental shooting while finding the killer. But pretty soon the killer finds him.

Taunting Dormer through the phone, the suspect, Walter Finch (Robin Williams), throws the cop a slap in the face. Finch claims he witnessed him shoot his partner and that alone prevents Dormer from even thinking of turning Finch in as a suspect, because if he does, Finch will immediately expose him. What begins now is a tantalizing dose of psychological suspense, as Finch manipulates Dormer, who has lost the ability to sleep thanks to the never setting Midnight Sun. And pretty soon, this dilemma causes Dormer to confront his own demons involving certain actions of his in the past that have brought him to his current position.

The performances in Insomnia are masterful every step of the way. First we have the great Al Pacino, who’s probably played more tortured cops than any actor alive. He also played similar characterizations in Heat and Serpico, but this is one of Pacino’s most challenging roles to date. Watching him, you really get a sense that Pacino himself really did lose a certain amount of sleep during production. Then there’s Robin Williams in an Oscar-deserving performance, who delivers an astonishingly creepy turn as Finch. Williams has long been one of the most renowned comedic actors around, and would always have a dramatic turn every now and then, like Good Will Hunting, but in Insomnia, he presents a side of him I didn’t even think existed. A scene in which Finch describes his murderous actions to Dormer over the phone is one of the Williams’ greatest moments ever. And Hilary Swank once again shows what a stunner of a young actress she is as a cop whose suspicions start to grow more and more by the minute.

Directed with a sharp, powerful impact by Christopher Nolan, Insomnia is a dynamic thriller of Hitchcockian proportions, and ranks as one of the best thrillers of recent years.

Video ****

This is an absolute stunner on Blu-ray...from the opening aerial shots over a glacier to the chase that takes place in dense fog to the darkly lit interiors, every frame of this high definition transfer rings out with a remarkable clarity and crisp, vivid detail.  Colors are beautiful and natural-looking throughout and no grain or compression effects mar the presentation.

Audio ****

The DTS HD audio is surprisingly effective considering this isn't an action movie.  The potency of the score and the ambience of certain tense scenes give it a sense of power and urgency.  Spoken words are well-delivered, and everything is superbly balanced for maximum effect.

Features ****

The Blu-ray contains two commentaries, one with Christopher Nolan, and scene specific commentaries from Hilary Swank, editor Dody Dorn, production designer Nathan Crowley, cinematographer Wally Pfister, and screenwriter Hillary Seitz. Also featured are four documentaries, “Day for Night: The Making of Insomnia”, “180: A Conversation with Christopher Nolan and Al Pacino”, “In the Fog”, a cinematography and production design featurette, and “Eyes Wide Open”, a featurette including interviews with real life insomniacs. There is also an additional scene, a trailer, and a photo gallery.


Insomnia might be considered the very rare exception in that it's a remake that surpasses an already good original.  Christopher Nolan was the right man to helm this material, which was faithful to the source but elevated in terms of tension, drama and urgency.  It's an absolute beauty on Blu-ray.

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