English - Hearing Impaired, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish
Insomnia (2002) (Rental)
Alcon Entertainment/Buena Vista .
R4 . COLOR . 113 mins .
M15+ . PAL
After getting the full attention of the movie-going world with the brilliant Memento, director Christopher Nolan could very likely have asked a studio if he could helm a film about the secret nocturnal life of a piece of cardboard and gotten the green light in seconds. Sure, everyone would have expected the piece of cardboard to tell its story backwards with plenty of flashbacks in grainy black and white, but hey, at least theyíd be getting what they expected. But Nolanís closely-watched next move after his self-penned surprise hit was the one thing many didnít expect - a remake of a relatively recent European film. The original Insomnia, made in Norway in 1997, won much acclaim for its inventive approach to the traditional murder mystery. But to attempt a remake for American audiences was a risky venture; previous attempts at reinterpreting imported art-house successes as mainstream cinema had gone disastrously wrong - The Vanishing and Point of No Return (the latter a remake of Luc Bessonís Nikita) were serious misfires and commercially stagnant.
"Exactly how long since you got some sleep, Al?"
With Insomnia, though, Nolan has a few things on his side. For starters, this material is perfect for his subtly disturbing directorial style and fondness for jump-cut editing - and with much of the core crew from Memento joining Nolan again here (including editor Dody Dorn and cinematographer Wally Pfister) thereís a real sense of effortless craft at work. The screenplay, by first-timer Hillary Seitz, is intelligent and compelling, making the most of the opportunity to exploit the familiar but gradually, subtly bending the rules, pulling the viewer out of their comfort zone before they realise whatís happening. And the cast is undeniably solid - Al Pacino in top form, Robin Williams once again extending his acting range into a darker realm, and Martin Donovan along with Hilary Swank providing solid, believable support.
In remote Alaska, above the Arctic Circle and permanently lit by sunlight during the long summer months, the body of a girl is found on a garbage heap. Sheís been beaten to death, and soon veteran Los Angeles detective Will Dormer (Pacino) arrives to try and piece together what has happened. Heís accompanied by his partner, Hap Eckhart (Donovan), and it quickly becomes very clear that all is not well with the pair; Will is under investigation by Internal Affairs back home, and Hap has been asked to give evidence against his partner. And then, while chasing a suspect in the case, Will accidentally shoots Hap dead. This, of course, is not going to look good. But as the investigation into the girlís killing continues, Will is offered a way out of his predicament - but at a price.
The film opens with a set of circumstances that strongly recall David Lynchís Twin Peaks pilot - the spectacular remote location, the dead girl found wrapped in plastic, the visiting detective from out of town, the girlís secret life thatís kept hidden even from her closest friend and the cocky former boyfriend with a dark secret. Whether or not this is homage is unclear, but itís immaterial; the girlís murder is the foundation to which the real story here is anchored. Pacino really excels here; while weíve seen him play this kind of character many times before, he captures the deteriorating mental state of the increasingly sleep-deprived Will Dormer perfectly. Hilary Swank, in the somewhat thankless supporting role as aspiring local detective Ellie Burr, could possibly have done with more three-dimensional character development. But sheís a good foil for Pacino throughout, and despite some minor flaws the well-written screenplay serves the rest of the supporting cast well. Robin Williams, who isnít seen on screen until half way through the movie, is perfectly low-key and subtle; his career rebirth as a non-fluffy dramatic actor is working out just fine.
We eagerly await Christopher Nolanís next self-penned effort, but until that eventuates thereís plenty for admirers of Memento to enjoy in Insomnia - and those who found the earlier film's structure disorienting will be pleased to learn that this one behaves like a normal movie - linear from start to finish (albeit with a solid helping of quick-cut flashbacks!)
This rental-only edition of Insomnia contains no extras at all; the retail version on sale in the US, on the other hand, has plenty (including a Christopher Nolan commentary which rearranges the movie into the order in which it was shot). Whether any or all of that material ends up on the region 4 retail release that will appear later this year is unknown; this is an independently-financed movie, and has been licensed to different companies around the world. The US disc is released by Warner; here, itís Buena Vista.
While only a single-layered DVD is used for the nearly two hour-long movie (the back cover incorrectly claims itís dual-layered), the compressionists at authoring house Deluxe have done a spectacular job of encoding the video here. They had good source material to work with; the 2.35:1 anamorphic film transfer is stunning, purely state-of-the-art with not a thing to complain about. Rich in colour, detailed, crisp and easily able to cope with the often difficult lighting contrasts Nolan throws in, itís a delight to behold. The compression for DVD is handled remarkably well, with not an artefact in sight - in fact, unless you have a mammoth display and arenít watching the pixels like a hawk, you probably wonít find a thing wrong. Close examination reveals the occasional loss of detail on complex backgrounds - but hey, if youíre watching the trees youíre missing the movie! The retail release should be a treat, but this simple single layered disc is better looking than 95% of contenders.
Audio is provided as a single Dolby Digital 5.1 track, a clean reproduction of the theatrical mix. And a lovely mix it is, using the soundstage realistically and without showiness. Dialogue is perhaps a little on the thin side occasionally, but thereís not much to criticise here. Nolan regular David Julyanís atmospheric score sounds terrific in full surround, and the rear channels are also used well for discreet effects when needed.
If youíre interested in the movie and not the way it was made, you could do worse than to pick a copy of this extremely solid movie-only version up as an ex-rental.