Film: Insomnia

Insomnia (1997) is a creepy Norwegian police procedural set in a small town above the Arctic Circle. A pair of Swedish cops, Jonas Engstrom and Erik Vik (Stellan Skarsgård and Sverre Anker Ousdal) travel to the remote town to assist in the murder investigation of a young girl. In the course of their search for the killer, another death occurs, putting Engstrom — a highly regarded cop, who nonetheless has serious personal issues — in a bad position. The relentless summer sun giving him a horrible case of insomnia, Engstrom has to balance solving the case against battling his personal demons.

Like the majority of the Scandinavian cinema I’ve seen — not a broad sample, mind you — Insomnia is a patient film, glacially slow in places, allowing extended shots and silent moments to paint its dark psychological picture. The relaxed pace, at times an obstacle, nonetheless contributes to the eerie, unsettling mood of the film. The story gradually peels back the depths of Engstrom’s dark personality, and Skarsgård’s stoic inscrutability slowly melts as the stresses of the assignment build; it’s a subtle but effective transformation.

Overall, it’s a solid psychological puzzler with a distinct visual sense, an effective and well constructed film — it’s easy to see why Christopher Nolan would be interested in remaking it. (I saw Nolan’s 2002 version, with Al Pacino, years ago, but don’t remember it well enough to know if it’s a faithful adaptation.)

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