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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 7/23/99

1997 (1999) - Norsk Films AS/Nordic Screen (Criterion)

review by Todd Doogan, special to The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Criterion's Insomnia Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A+/B+/C

Specs and Features

97 mins, NR, widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual layer (layer switch at 51.37, at chapter 13 switch), Amaray keep case packaging, film-themed menu screens with clips and music, theatrical trailer, TV spot (both with optional subtitles), scene access (21 chapters), language: Norwegian and Swedish (DD 3.0 surround), subtitles: English

Let me take a moment, here in the opening of my review for Insomnia, to let out a whooping scream for joy. Criterion Collection, may we welcome you to the wonderful world of 16x9 anamorphic transfers. You're doing the world of cinema a service already, but now you're doing the world of DVD a tremendous service. I knew you wouldn't stay away for long -- it's just that I wish you hadn't waited until your 47th release to come to the party. I don't usually review the disc before the film, but in this case, I just have to. The transfer on Insomnia is pretty much perfect. In fact, it's gorgeous. There is such a range of contrast in this film between black, white, gray and blue, that it must have been a bitch to get this transfer to look as good as it does. With thick dense fog, tunnels of white light, and yellow sunlight drifting into a musty hotel room, there was plenty of opportunity to deliver a mediocre transfer. But Criterion really deserves an A+ on the video here. This is a pretty giddy moment for me -- I'm such a fan boy.

Okay, fine -- so is Insomnia even deserving of such a nice looking DVD in the first place? Let me tell you, this is a wonderful film. I actually didn't think I was going to like it in the least. I'm not one for Norwegian cinema, as most of the Bits faithful readership can probably guess. But this isn't really a Norwegian film, per se. Sure, it's set in Norway, in a small coastal town well within the Arctic Circle, and the major character is a Swedish cop with a twisted past. But that matters very little. Insomnia could very well find itself next to Seven or Silence of the Lambs in the world of cinema, because no matter what the setting, the film is about the mind of a criminal - be he on the side of good or evil.

Insomnia is the first film from Erik Skjoldbjærg, but you would never guess that after you've seen it. It plays like a film from someone who's been making movies for a very long time. Tightly wound, with masterful camera technique, Insomnia claws at your guts, never letting up for its 97 minute running time. The story follows Detective Jonas Engström, a Swedish cop with a dented past. It seems he likes to interrogate his witnesses in hotel rooms -- in the nude - while having sex with them. Most likely looking for some time away from the ridicule of his home office, he soon finds himself trying to solve the horrible murder of a beautiful 17-year-old in the town of Tromsø. Engström is the best at what he does. This should be a by-the-book investigation for him -- and it would be, if it weren't for the fact Engström is having trouble sleeping due to the 24-hour, sunlit summer days north of the Arctic Circle. Eventually some questions come into play with the investigation: What happened to Engström's partner Erik Vik? What's the deal with Engström and these women? Was the girl even murdered in the first place? All these questions have answers, and this film is so good at answering them, you'll wish it was longer than 97 minutes.

Insomnia isn't a tense rollercoaster film like Seven, but it is a harrowing look into the actions of a disenchanted man. Engström is played with incredible passion by Stellan Skarsgård, who American audiences know better from Good Will Hunting and Ronin. Skarsgård wraps himself so fully into Engström, that I will forever think of him for this performance. This is truly one of those movies that I will be constantly popping into the player, making sure everyone I know has seen it.

The DVD, as I enthused above, is great. The picture quality is wonderful, and I can't say how excited I am that Criterion is doing 16x9. I hope EVERYTHING they do from now on is 16x9 if it applies. The extras, unfortunately, aren't top notch. Unless director Erik Skjodbjærg can't speak English, there is no excuse for there not being a commentary track on this disc. Hell, even if he can't, I would love to hear what Skarsgård thought about his brooding performance as Engström. Aside from the lack of commentary, we get a good trailer and TV spot. More than most DVDs at this point, but the lack of a commentary definitely knocks the grade down a notch. The overall sound is good -- a low brooding track that gets the attention it needs in surround. There are no complaints there. All in all, it's a solid disc for a solid flick.

I know that sometimes it's hard to find good movies that we haven't already heard of - especially on DVD. Insomnia is a very good movie, and for anyone looking for a surprise, this is the film for you. It looks great, it's well done, and it'll make all those sleepless nights go by a little quicker. The one thing this film won't do, is put you to sleep. Check it out.

Todd Doogan
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