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cast: Stellan Skarsgård, Sverre Anker Ousdal, Bjørn Floberg, Gisken Armand, and Maria Bonnevie

director: Erik Skjoldbjærg

97 minutes (15) 1997 widescreen ratio 16:9
Fremantle/Arrow DVD Region 2 retail
Also available to buy on video

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Steven Hampton
As legend has it, the most frequently used line of dialogue in the movies is "get some rest" (or "get some sleep") and, although the actual phrase is used only once or twice in this edgy Scandinavian crime drama, the words take on special meaning for the always drowsy main character. Detective Jonas Engström (Stellan Skarsgård) is a Swedish homicide cop assisting Norwegian police to hunt the killer of a young girl. Setting a trap for the murderer, Engström accidentally kills his partner during their pursuit of a suspect, but manages to blame the still as-yet unidentified killer for this tragedy.
   In the perpetual daylight of extreme northern midsummer, now crushed by guilt, haunted by nightmarish flashbacks and succumbing to gnawing paranoia, Engström is driven to evermore desperate lengths to conceal and sabotage any evidence against himself, particularly when he receives an apparent blackmail call from the killer (cleverly revealed as a novelist) who claims to have witnessed the cop's shooting incident...
   Anyone expecting a standard terror movie like I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) will be in for a rather pleasant surprise here. This psychological thriller is an intensely moral piece, balancing vaguely ironic asides (including a batch of supporting characters presented as satirical versions of familiar TV cop show stereotypes) with mood-jarring cuts, which generate crashing and subtle menace about the principals. Erik Skjoldbjærg demonstrates tremendous guile and savvy for a first-time director, drawing us, albeit willingly, into the polluted depths of Engström's stricken conscience, exploring his unbending attitude and occasionally callous reaction to the mounting daily frustrations of vividly temporal distortion, by way of waking dreams and powerful hallucinations. Engström is a tormented soul, only half aware of his dilemma, and has narrowing choices left open to him when his Norwegian colleagues discover his deception. What makes Insomnia so poetically resonant is that it locates darkness in the progressively twisted cop character's heart, exposed to pitiless sunlight in the night-less, far north realm.
   Naturally, this being a notable foreign language film, Hollywood simply had to remake it [read review -Ed] for American audiences, casting Al Pacino (though I would have much preferred James Woods) in the leading role, and shifting the main location over to Alaska.
   The DVD has an anamorphic picture with English subtitles, plus a stills gallery and the original trailer.