Written by Dan Bradley
I’ve experienced sleepless nights, as I’m sure most everyone has at some point in their life. But for some, this conscious prison can linger for many days, sometimes weeks at a time. Christopher Nolan’s remake of Insomnia manages to capture this feeling through terrific writing and strong sensory cues littered throughout.
On the verge of a departmental decision that could jeopardize his career, detective Dormer (Al Pacino) travels to Alaska with his partner, Detective Ekhart (Martin Donovan) to investigate…the brutal murder of a 17 year old girl. Teamed with young police recruit Burr (Hilary Swank), they lure the killer (Robin Williams) deep into a fog where tragedy strikes, leaving Detective Ekhart dead. Dormer must now fight to hide his own secrets from Burr by forming an alliance with the killer, all while battling the Alaskan White Nights which help prevent him from sleeping.
As expected from the caliber of talent both behind and in front of the camera, Insomnia really shines as a finished product. For the most part, I forgot I was watching a major Hollywood thriller and felt as if I was watching a smaller, tighter film such as Nolan’s previous effort, Memento. Top notch direction, writing, cinematography and acting help make up for any small holes or inconsistencies expected from this type of film.
Insomnia’s 5.1 Dolby Digital surround mix is aggressive for the short action sequences and complacent for the dialogue-driven scenes. Where the soundtrack comes to life is during the moments when Dormer is experiencing the physical and mental effects of his insomnia. Silence turns to chaos and back to silence during these riveting looks into Dormer’s paranoia. These great scenes are a large part of the success of the film as a whole and are presented nicely on this disc.
Wow. Watching the Alaskan landscape during the opening flyover sequence was truly amazing. The 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer perfectly recreated this, as well as several other breathtaking locales and dimly lit areas. The cabin in the fog showdown, while a direct contrast in tones from the opening sequence, was also perfectly rendered. This transfer is outstanding and should be commended for its great colors and clarity.
Before delving into the extras, I recommend avoiding the menus where they reside before watching the film for the first time. Some of the scenes and dialogue spoken will ruin some key elements of the plot.
That being said, the extras kick-off with five well-made production diaries. The first, titled “180 degrees: A conversation with Christopher Nolan and Al Pacino”, was filmed unscripted on a Saturday afternoon with these two stars as they sip tea at a small table and chat about moviemaking. Next is “Day for Night: The Making of Insomnia” which is composed mostly of retrospective looks on the film from the filmmakers and stars. The following two diaries are identical and titled “In The Fog”, but the first has commentary from the cinematographer and the second from the production designer. Rounding out the production diaries is a full-length commentary track from director Christopher Nolan, as well as five scene-specific commentaries from various individuals involved in the film.
Outside of the production diaries is a short featurette on real-life insomniacs titled “Eyes Wide Open”, comprised of interviews with patients and specialists. It reminded me of something available on cable television late at night but fits well with the film. Following this are two additional scenes, available with or without the director’s commentary. Last but not least is a trailer plus cast and crew biographies.
Insomnia is by no means a perfect film but Nolan has successfully coaxed great performances from his actors to bring a compelling thriller to life. The DVD, from the video presentation to the supplemental material, is a great effort from Warner Brothers and is definitely worth a rent at the least.
Special Features List
- Cast & Crew Commentary
- Theatrical trailer
- Additional scene with commentary
- “Day for Night” making of documentary
- “180 Degrees”: A Conversation with Christopher Nolan and Al Pacino
- “In the Fog”: Cinematography and production design
- “Eyes Wide Open”: The insomniac
- Stills Gallery