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Invited to Nightmute, Alaska, to head a murder case, a veteran LAPD detective finds his investigation disrupted by an ever-shining midnight sun that wreaks sleep-depriving havoc on him – and by personal guilt over a second crime that may be real...or a figment of his increasingly unstable consciousness.
For more about Insomnia and the Insomnia Blu-ray release, see Insomnia Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on July 8, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Al Pacino, Robin Williams, Hilary Swank, Martin Donovan, Maura Tierney, Nicky Katt
Director: Christopher Nolan
» See full cast & crew
Insomnia Blu-ray Review
Nolan's taut Alaskan thriller receives an impressive Blu-ray release...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, July 8, 2010
It amazes how many moviegoers think writer/director Christopher Nolan materialized as if from nowhere, stepping out of the shadows of the Batcave with keys to the Tumbler in one hand and 1.5 billion dollars in the other. Don't get me wrong, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight are fantastic films, each one a breathtaking glimpse of how bold and brilliant superhero cinema can be, but I pity anyone who doesn't realize how deep Nolan's rabbit hole goes. His tri-pronged 1998 neo-noir, The Following, is a testament to smart, inventive low-budget filmmaking; a clever and compelling introduction to a unique voice who would soon take Hollywood by storm. His lean and lucid turn-of-the-millennium American debut, Memento, continues to smash every cinematic rule (even some ten years after its inception), simultaneously unspooling forwards and backwards while pairing mesmerizing visuals with masterful storytelling. His ode to sleight-of-hand trickery, The Prestige, twists and turns with the confidence of its maestro, playing on expectation to deliver a staggering series of thematic and narrative gut punches. And then there's Insomnia, Nolan's unnerving adaptation of Erik Skjoldbjærg's bleak Norwegian thriller of the same name. Smoldering and intense, its deliberate pacing, marvelous cinematography and arresting performances make it a fine addition to Nolan's canon.
When a teenage girl is murdered in a small Alaskan town called Nightmute, two veteran LAPD homicide detectives -- Will Dormer (Al Pacino) and Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan) -- are dispatched to assist the local police. But their presence only complicates matters. While chasing a suspect across a foggy embankment, Dormer inadvertently shoots and kills his partner, leaving him in a precarious position. Because Eckhart was about to cooperate in an Internal Affairs investigation (one that could potentially ruin his friend's career and reputation), Dormer knows full well that no one will believe the shooting was accidental. Pinning Eckhart's death on the Nightmute killer, the streetwise detective concocts a convincing cover up, going so far as to tamper with evidence and mislead a sharp young officer (Hillary Swank). There's just one problem: the suspect Dormer was chasing, Walter Finch (Robin Williams), saw what really happened. Worse, Finch begins to feel a connection to Dormer, contacting the detective in an attempt to develop an even deeper bond. Now, Dormer has to stay one step ahead of two murder investigations, contend with a disturbed serial killer, and deal with a bout of chronic insomnia brought on by guilt and exacerbated by the unyielding Arctic sun.
Most filmmakers would shy away from an inscrutably ambiguous protagonist like Dormer, but not Nolan. Fatally flawed men-of-action have long fascinated the director, and he embraces Dormer as such, offering few clues to the detective's motivations and even fewer concrete answers about his innermost thoughts. Is he a well-intentioned liar? A self-serving criminal? Something else altogether? Is it wise to trust him at all? Is his insomnia the result of guilt? Remorse? Anxiety? The splintering mental state of a once-respected police officer? The mounting stress of a world weary career cop? As Nolan describes him: perhaps all that and more. With an unrelenting sun looming in the sky, small-town life leaves Dormer to his corrosive thoughts and swelling self-loathing; a perfect psychological storm that exposes his floundering wits to his suspect's steely wiles. And Finch? Nolan's budding serial killer is a callous but captivating enigma; a lonely spirit who sees Dormer as both priest and parishioner. Until the film's one-hour mark, he's little more than a foggy silhouette and a disembodied telephone voice -- there are even moments where I found myself wondering whether or not he existed outside of Dormer's mind -- but his presence propels Dormer and, by extension, the entire story down an intentionally slippery narrative slope. And what a disquieting dual-descent into madness it is.
Pacino and Williams deliver magnificent performances, infusing Nolan's high-concept, character-driven adaptation with palpable conviction and quiet bravura. Williams suppresses his manic nature, giving his co-star leave to fill the film's widening emotional gap. He's so convincing, so effective, so utterly creepy that it's hard to imagine another actor filling Finch's shoes. Likewise, Pacino implodes whenever the opportunity to explode presents itself, teaming Dormer's every expression, gesture and reaction with sheer exhaustion. Even when he erupts, it's lethargic and unwieldy; the flailing, beleaguered rage of a cornered animal. When Insomnia stumbles -- rare as it is -- Pacino and Williams are never the cause. Swank is adequate as a bright-eyed upstart, but she oversells her character's enthusiasm; Donovan is decent enough, but doesn't have much to work with (other than a chilling death scene, which he tackles admirably); and Nicky Katt (one of the few thorns in The Dark Knight's side) doesn't do anything a rookie actor with a stone-faced-skeptic repertoire wouldn't do. But these are fairly negligible missteps in an otherwise finely tuned procedural. Nolan's command of screenwriter Hillary Seitz's script and longtime cinematographer Wally Pfister's cameras, as well as Pacino and Williams' performances, transforms Insomnia into an unpredictable psychological jigsaw puzzle worthy of any filmfan's attention.
Insomnia Blu-ray, Video Quality
Insomnia emerges from the catalog fog with a remarkable, oft-times striking 1080p/VC-1 transfer; an unexpectedly satisfying, altogether filmic presentation that tactfully complements Christopher Nolan's isolated Alaskan hideaways and Wally Pfister's burdensome shadows. First and foremost, the film's colors are gorgeous. Savory, hearthlike hues imbue a cozy hotel with welcome warmth, clinical greens and icy silvers lend a callous quality to the Nightmute's morgue, and wintry grays and earthy browns afflict a dilapidated lakeside cabin. Through it all, skintones remain natural and lifelike, only succumbing to slight flushing on rare occasion. Black levels are nearly impeccable, delineation teases and reveals exactly as it should, and contrast is strong and stable. Moreover, detail is exquisite. Crisp, refined textures are common and closeups look magnificent; landscapes are sharply defined and the film's attractive veneer of grain is intact. In fact, the whole of the transfer is both proficient and pristine. Artifacting, errant noise, banding, crush and smearing simply aren't in the lineup. Yes, minor ringing invades the image, and yes, a handful of shots seem a bit restless (mainly those at the Connell funeral), but it's unclear whether each one traces back to the filmmakers' original production or the studio's more recent tinkering. Thankfully, neither is distracting enough to warrant any serious grief. From scene to scene, shot to shot, Insomnia earns its place among the most stunning catalog titles released this year. Filmfans and videophiles will be extremely pleased with the results.
Insomnia Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Insomnia is an exceedingly atmospheric psychological thriller, and Warner's fluid, sophisticated DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track embraces every distressing silence, hushed exchange and tenuous chase. Dialogue is clean and clear -- Finch's phone voice being the lone (albeit reasonable) exception -- and meticulous prioritization lends realism to dense fog banks and chugging ferries. Subtle touches are used to great effect, tasking the rear speakers with luring listeners deeper and deeper into the film's mounting despair. The chilly alleys of Nightmute are convincing; the boxed-in acoustics of Dormer's hotel room equally so. The clamor of a dump-site is aurally and thematically overwhelming; the restrained bustle of a police station is as perfectly small-town as they come. Granted, large stretches of the film are rather front-heavy, particularly Insomnia's procedural sequences, but Nolan shows a knack for mounting slowburn, sonic offensives that elevate the track throughout the experience. Even composer David Julyan's score plays it close to the chest, relying on hauntingly languid crescendos to build tension. His pieces surge and relent in all their lossless glory, mind you, but his more nuanced flourishes will nevertheless go unnoticed. Similarly, the LFE channel charges to the forefront only when necessary, supporting the mix rather than dominating it, and directionality is, more often than not, a tad diplomatic. Still, I doubt Insomnia could sound much better than it does here.
Insomnia Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Blu-ray edition of Insomnia doesn't feature any groundbreaking BD-Java or BD-Live bells and whistles. It doesn't boast a Maximum Movie Mode or a host of newly produced documentaries. What it does offer is a remarkably reserved, unexpectedly informative supplemental package that, if nothing else, has a director's commentary unlike any I've ever encountered. It's not often I absorb -- really absorb -- an entire commentary, but I couldn't get enough.
Insomnia Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Though more suffocating and less calculated than Nolan's other films, Insomnia is a gripping, performance-driven psychological thriller worthy of carrying the acclaimed director's name. Both Pacino and Williams are exceptional, Pfister's atmospheric cinematography is a sight to behold, and Nolan and Seitz's adaptation of Frobenius and Skjoldbjærg's original film snakes in artful, occasionally mesmerizing directions. Better still, Insomnia's Blu-ray debut is a catalog standout; one that features an excellent AV presentation and an intriguing supplemental package. With such a low introductory pricepoint, I can't help but recommend this one to everyone, newcomer and Nolan zealot alike.
Blu-ray bundles with Insomnia (3 bundles)
Insomnia Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Nolan’s Insomnia Announced on Blu-ray - March 29, 2010
Warner Home Video has announced the psychological thriller Insomnia for release on Blu-ray on July 13. Insomnia, directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Al Pacino, is a 2002 remake of an identically-titled 1997 Norwegian thriller. The BD will contain movie money ...
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