DVD Verdict
Home About Deals Blu-ray DVD Reviews Upcoming DVD Releases Contest Podcasts Judges Jury Room Contact  

Case Number 27582

Buy Insomnia (1997) (Blu-ray) Criterion Collection at Amazon

Insomnia (1997) (Blu-ray) Criterion Collection

Criterion // 1997 // 97 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // July 22nd, 2014

• View Judge Douglas's Dossier
• E-mail Judge Douglas
• Printer Friendly Review

Every purchase you make through these Amazon links supports DVD Verdict's reviewing efforts. Thank you!


All Rise...

Judge Clark Douglas is still haunted by the time he accidentally killed a review.

Editor's Note

Our reviews of Insomnia (2002) (published December 19th, 2002) and Insomnia (2002) (Blu-ray) (published July 15th, 2010) are also available.

The Charge

He who sins, does not sleep.

Opening Statement

"Say what you have to say."

Facts of the Case

A teenage girl has been murdered in Norway, and Swedish investigator Jonas Engstrom (Stellan Skarsgard, Breaking the Waves) has been called in to examine the case. The city in which the murder occurred is an unusual one: it has a 24-hour daylight cycle, which makes it particularly difficult for outsiders like Jonas to sleep. Early in the investigation, a tense confrontation with the primary suspect leads to Jonas accidentally killing his partner Erik (Sverre Anker Ousdal, The Secret Life of Words). Rather than confessing to the accident and facing the consequences, Jonas decides to cover up the evidence and blame Erik's murder on the suspected killer. Eventually, the hunter and the hunted meet and begin forming a rather unusual relationship.

The Evidence

Like many American viewers, the first version of Insomnia I experienced was the 2002 remake directed by Christopher Nolan. It's a fine film, but it differs in a number of significant ways from the original helmed by Erik Skjoldbjaerg. While Nolan's movie essentially has three primary characters (the detectives played by Al Pacino and Hilary Swank, plus the killer played by Robin Williams), the original is very much a focused single-character study which pushes everyone else to the margins. For the most part, the 1997 version of Insomnia is a tighter, leaner, nastier affair. While I'd argue that the original version is the slightly superior version, it's worth noting that the two movies are different enough to prevent either from feeling pointless.

As played by Stellan Skarsgard, Jonas Engstrom is essentially a variation on Bad Lieutenant. He's not as unhinged as the Harvey Keitel character, but he's entirely too willing to cross ethical boundaries and is constantly wracked with guilt. He isn't a lovable antihero or somebody who's willing to do the wrong thing for the right reason—he's a self-preserving creep who often seems unsure of precisely where he's headed. Skarsgard's world-weary (and physically weary) performance is loaded with sweaty tension and palpable self-loathing, and he tends to react to his increasingly despairing circumstances with an exhausted snarl rather than a mournful sigh. It's one of the great roles of his career, and the sort of meaty part he ought to have been given more often in the years since the film's release.

Skjoldbjaerg's sense of atmosphere is exceptionally strong, too. The film feels like the antithesis of many dark, grubby-looking movies about murder investigations, as the constant daylight and Norwegian setting leads to a color palette dominated by bright whites of various shades. It's difficult to operate in the shadows when no shadows exist (though there is a prominent instance of fog). The film moves at a steady clip, as it avoids needless subplots and focuses exclusively on the inner conflict of its central character. The most prominent secondary character is undoubtedly the killer (played with slippery confidence by Bjorn Floberg, A Somewhat Gentle Man), but even he ultimately serves as the film's way of forcing Jonas to turn introspective about personal matters he might otherwise ignore.

Insomnia (Blu-ray) benefits from a strong 1080p/1.85:1 transfer which does a fine job of showcasing the bright, barren Norwegian landscape. This really is one of the most visually absorbing crime dramas I can recall, as the overwhelming lightness contrasts so sharply with the gloomy subject matter. Detail is terrific, a natural level of grain is present throughout and depth is strong. The DTS HD-2.0 Master Audio track gets the job done nicely as well, though this is largely a dialogue-driven film (only some slightly-too-aggressive opening and closing credits pieces feel out of sync with the subtle soundtrack). Supplements include a very enjoyable chat with Skarsgard and Skjoldbjaerg (running just over twenty minutes) and two short films made by the director: "Near Winter" (33 minutes) and "Close to Home" (32 minutes). None of these supplements were featured on the previous DVD release, so there's plenty of incentive to upgrade. You also get a trailer, a DVD copy and a booklet featuring an essay by Jonathan Romney.

Closing Statement

Insomnia is a spare, compelling crime drama built around a superb central performance. If you're only familiar with the Nolan flick, consider familiarizing yourself with its slightly more unsettling inspiration.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

Give us your feedback!

Did we give Insomnia (1997) (Blu-ray) Criterion Collection a fair trial? yes / no

Share This Review

Follow DVD Verdict

Other Reviews You Might Enjoy

• Pursuit
• The Anderson Tapes
• Tortilla Soup
• Wargames: 25th Anniversary Edition

DVD Reviews Quick Index

• DVD Releases
• Recent DVD Reviews
• Search for a DVD review...

Scales of Justice

Video: 95
Audio: 90
Extras: 80
Acting: 93
Story: 87
Judgment: 90

Perp Profile

Studio: Criterion
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
Audio Formats:
• DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (Norwegian)
• English
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 1997
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Blu-ray
• Crime
• Drama
• Foreign
• Mystery
• Thriller

Distinguishing Marks

• Short Films
• Interview
• Trailer
• Booklet
• DVD Copy


• IMDb

DVD | Blu-ray | Upcoming DVD Releases | About | Staff | Jobs | Contact | Subscribe | Find us on Google+ | Privacy Policy

Review content copyright © 2014 Clark Douglas; Site design and review layout copyright © 2016 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.