Director Christopher Nolan follows up his critically acclaimed Memento with Insomnia, a remake of Erik Skjoldbjærg’s 1997 thriller of the same name. The original told the story of a hardboiled police officer (Stellan Skarsgård) trying to track down a killer in Norway’s foggy capital city. Nolan’s facsimile transports Skjoldbjærg’s crime procedural to a sleepy Alaskan town, where LAPD detective Will Dormer (Al Pacino) has been sent to investigate the brutal murder of a 17-year-old girl. Dormer kills his partner, Hap (Martin Donovan), during a stakeout on a fog-shrouded beach, giving reclusive novelist/murderer Walter Finch (Robin Williams) a possible get-out-of-jail card. There’s no real potent relationship between man and nature here to merit all the cutaways to wintry Alaskan vistas yet Nolan knows a good ice field when he sees one. Dormer’s eerie descent into the film’s Alaskan burb feels like the start of a very eerie episode of “Fantasy Island” and while Pacino plays tired well, Nolan himself seems less concerned with the detective’s insomnia than he is with turning Skjoldbjærg’s perfectly routine existential tale into a perfectly routine cat-and-mouse endgame. In the film’s soon-to-be legendary set piece, Dormer chases Finch (Williams seemingly engages Big Foot from afar) across piles of logs slipping and sliding their way to the sawmill. Williams is about as impossible to watch playing it low key as he is doing Patch Adams, which means Skjoldbjærg’s “everyman”-cum-tortured-accidental-killer has become a sex pervert with too many trump cards up his sleeve. Despite Dormer’s gratuitous flashbacks and hallucinations (which Finch manages to inexplicably reference in one scenario), Nolan’s atmospheric images begin to increasingly engage lack of sleep. The tense, piercingly lit exteriors are sharply contrasted with the dark interiors of rooms and the dank corridors beneath cabins. One fabulous shot of darkening waters is suggestive of an impending nap yet Nolan makes a tragic mistake by taking the film’s title entirely too literally.
A triumph of location scouting, Christopher Nolan's Insomnia may be the best-looking DVD in the entire Warner Home Video library. This 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is a pristine reproduction the original source material. Detail is impeccable while no edge enhancement is to be found anywhere. Less successful is the Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround. Though certainly engrossing, the track is weaker than one might expect.
Christopher Nolan's commentary track is a first of its kind, recorded in order of the film's shooting sequence. Nolan isn't exactly engaging and the process itself feels hurried, but this little experiment will prove useful to budding filmmakers and anyone curious to know how films are really shot. A second commentary track features Hilary Swank, production designer Nathan Crowley, editor Dody Dorn, cinematographer Wally Pfister and screenwriter Hillary Seitz. Though spotty (everyone was recorded separately), this track is most notable for Dorn's discussion of how Insomnia varies from the Erik Skjoldbjærg's original and Pfister's insight into the complicated shooting schedule. Of the four featurettes included on this DVD edition only "180°: A Conversation with Christopher Nolan and Al Pacino" stands apart from the rest. Nolan fares better than Pacino but both men delve extensively into the challenges faced by the film's actors. The "Day for Night" making-of documentary is superfluous, as is the poorly shot though certainly interesting "Eyes Wide Open: The Insomniac's World" featurette. What the "In the Fog: Cinematography and Production Design" segment lacks in insight it more than makes up for in gorgeous location footage. Also included here is a stills gallery, two deleted scenes, cast/crew film highlights and a theatrical trailer.
This incredibly handsome transfer will appeal most to Christopher Nolan fans. Everyone else should check it out for Nolan's risky and informative commentary track.