Review by Michael Jacobson
Stellan Skarsgard, Svelle Anker Ousdal, Maria Bonnevie
Director: Erik Skjoldbjaerg
Audio: DTS HD 2.0 Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 97 Minutes
Release Date: July 22, 2014
Insomnia initially intrigued me for two reasons. One, it was filmed in my ancestral homeland of Norway. And two, the original DVD release was Criterion's first ever anamorphic offering. Now they are the champions of high definition and Blu-ray...how time flies!
This movie is not quite a crime drama and not quite a
thriller, but it is both fairly intense and psychological.
Stellan Skarsgard, recently of Good
Will Hunting and Deep Blue Sea fame,
plays Jonas Engstrom, a Swedish investigator who ends up on assignment in Norway
when a young girl is brutally murdered. Why
was he picked to go? There seems to
be a big skeleton in his closet involving him getting intimate with a star
witness, though the film doesn't delve too deeply into his past.
Just enough to let us know this is a man fallen from grace.
He's quite an interesting character, in that he's a
terrific investigator, but because of his weaknesses, he's not such a good
cop. He's clearly a candidate to
unravel, and the fact that he's in a land where the sun never goes down,
leaving him unable to sleep, isn't helping.
When he sets a trap for the killer, it goes wrong.
The killer gets away, and in a moment of confusion, he mistakenly kills
one of his own men in the fog. And
rather than admit his mistake, he panics and tries to make it look like the
killer did it. But he's the only witness, so now he has to deal with two
investigations: his own, and the
one that he's the object of.
Skarsgard is a terrific actor, and watching him grow more
and more desperate is both unsettling and fascinating.
I don't know if this film was shot in sequence or not, but you can see,
or at lease sense, physical deterioration in him as the lack of sleep and the
stress takes their toll. What he
does in his weakest moments are shameful, but are all acts of one who is trying
with desperation and futility to maintain control.
Thanks to the terrific setting of Norway, director
Skjoldbjaerg has created a very unusual look for a film involving cops and
criminals. There is very little
darkness or shadow, and of course, no night scenes, because of the midnight sun.
It helps to emphasize the fact that Engstrom is a man out of his element.
Literally and figuratively, he cannot escape the light.
This is a clean, sharp crisp transfer, with no grain or artifacts present, and good coloring, considering that the majority of images in the film were shot with the color toned down and with emphasis on blues and grays to convey the cool and misty climate. Even the foggy scenes are without image breakup. Objects don't look fuzzy and undefined, they actually look like real, solid images that just happened to be covered by fog.
The soundtrack is uncompressed surround, and is surprisingly
three-dimensional. At least twice,
I paused the movie because I thought there were sounds coming from another room
in my house, only to find that it was just the soundtrack to the film.
The disc contains a new conversation with director Erik Skjoldbjaerg and actor Stellan Skarsgard, plus two short films from the director, "Near Winter" and "Close to Home". Rounding out are the original Norwegian trailer and TV spot, both with subtitles.
A terrific DVD has become an even better Blu-ray, showing that Criterion never rests when it comes to upping the quality of their releases for film fans. Recommended.