BR: Insomnia (2002)

December 31, 2010 | By

Return to: Home Blu-ray, DVD, Film Reviews / I


Film: Excellent / DVD Transfer: Excellent / DVD Extras: Excellent

Label: Warner Home Video / Region: All / Released: July 13, 2010

Genre: Suspense

Synopsis: Severe lack of sleep begins to affect a detective’s ability to solve a case during Alaska’s 24 hour daylight.

Special Features: Additional Scenes with optional commentary by Christopher Nolan / Audio Commentary 1: director Christopher Nolan / Audio Commentary 2 (scene specific): actress Hilary Swank, production designer Nathan Crowley, editor Dody Dorn, cinematographer Wally Pfister, and screenwriter Hillary Seitz / 4 Featurettes: “Day for Night: Making the Movie” + “180 Degrees: A Conversation with Christopher Nolan and Al Pacino” + “In the Fog: Cinematography and production design” with optional cinematographer and production designer commentaries + “Eyes Wide open: The Insomniac’s World” / Stills Gallery / Theatrical Trailer




Whereas most American remakes of dark and grim European thrillers tend to get emasculated – Steven Soderbergh’s production of Nightwatch (1997) being a perfect example – this version of the 1997 Norwegian film Insomnia is quite faithful to the original’s grimness.

Some of the more provocative elements from the ’97 film were toned down, and under Christopher Nolan’s direction, the remake is a strong procedural whodunnit with an increasingly potent emphasis on the psychological destruction of lead investigator Will Dormer), a veteran detective running away from an internal investigation back in Los Angeles.

Dormer is immediately established as a fish out of water; even his dialect is a subtle New Orleans drawl, which hints at a life of having to adapt from one locale to another. Alaska ends up offering the biggest challenge, with 24 hours of sunlight that rob him of the sleep he needs to remain objective and precise. After 6 days without proper sleep, Dormer is poised for disaster, and it’s obvious he’s running on adrenaline during the case’s final days, although what’s interesting is how he changes from a spot-on detective to a blunderer, and weakened by sleep deprivation and overwhelming stressors, allows himself to be coerced by the killer he was initially determined to arrest without question.

As local author / unintended killer Walter Finch, Robin Williams is surprisingly chilling, giving his character a wholly believable quality of banality and quiet sophistication in the way a bland man is able to manipulate a hardened detective into desperate actions. The battle of wits between Dormer and Finch remains ongoing (much like the weird alliance between killer and innocent in Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train), but the scripts expertly balances each player’s chess moves until the two must collide with explosive violence.

Added to the drama is young cop Ellie Burr (Hilary Swank), initially in awe of Dormer’s career, and later torn between adulation, respect, and the horror of discovering Dormer’s may have intentionally shot his longtime partner Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan) during a hunt for Finch.

Nolan’s pacing is riveting, with already precise dialogue further sharpened by Dody Dorn’s superb editing (particularly the action scenes, including the fog chase where Hap is killed, an incredible log jam chase, and the finale).

Equally memorable is Wally Pfister’s beautiful ‘scope cinematography that glows in the new Blu-ray transfer, showing off Alaska’s gorgeous glaciers, and British Columbia’s isolated regions. Every frame and edit is gripping, and David Julyan’s score offers a fine balance of orchestral lamentations for the characters, and impressionistic tones and sonic patterns straddling sound design.

The supporting cast is fairly strong, including Katherine Isabelle (Ginger Snaps) as the dead girl’s two-timing best friend; Jonathan Jackson (General Hospital) as the dead girl’s abusive boyfriend; Paul Dooley (Seinfeld) playing the station chief; and Lorne Cardinal (Corner Gas) in a small role as a cop. Maura Tierney’s (News Radio) role as a hotel manager was trimmed down (as evidenced by a deleted scene on the disc), but her character’s attraction to and sympathy for Dormer is implied in a few scenes, particularly near the end where the two may have had an affair.

Warner Home Video’s BR ports over all the extras from the loaded DVD release, and while there’s no new special content, it’s already a full package that covers all grounds.

Perhaps the only neglected area is the script. In her few extracted comments from the secondary commentary track, screenwriter Hillary Seitz explains the remake focuses on the subtext of the original, and she went though 11 drafts before the script satisfied the studio. It would’ve been interesting to hear other aspects from the original Nikolaj Frobenius and Erik Skjoldbjaerg script that were adapted for the remake, and handful of years it took to crafts a script that satisfied the studio and director.

Other participants of commentary track 2 include the editor, cinematographer, production designer, and co-star Swank. Most of their comments are brief and scene-specific, and one has the option to select specific participants, or play the entire round.

Nolan’s solo commentary is unsurprisingly unconventional, in that he discusses the film’s production in the order of the film’s shooting days. With onscreen disclaimers (“Day 20 Scenes 63, 83, 85” for example) Nolan blends personal diary with production details in the chronology of the shooting schedule. It’s somewhat refreshing, but the end result is a more technical commentary that has repeated details, and gets rather dry. There isn’t much about the script, the production’s history (both Soderbergh and George Clooney are credited as executive producers), nor Nolan’s collaborative relationship with composer Julyan (which goes back to the director’s first film, The Following).

The remaining extras include a stills gallery, and a quartet of featurettes which include a standard making-of narrative (with a brief appearance by Soderbergh); a candid and lengthy conversation between Nolan and Pacino, taped 6 months after production wrapped; a brief featurette on the fog sequence with dual commentaries by the production designer and cinematographer; and a another short featurette on the condition of insomnia, in terms of how it relates to Dorman, and its affects on people as described by doctors and a pair of real-life sufferers.

Insomnia marked Christopher Nolan’s leap into A-level productions, and followed his puzzle film Memento (2000), and was followed by Batman Begins (2005).



© 2010 Mark R. Hasan


Related links:

BR / Film:  Inception (2010)


Related external links (MAIN SITE):

DVD / Film:  Nightwatch (1997)Strangers on a Train (1951)


External References:

IMDB Soundtrack AlbumComposer Filmography


Buy from:

Amazon.comInsomnia [Blu-ray]

Amazon.caInsomnia [Blu-ray]


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