As remakes of foreign films go, INSOMNIA ($27) proves to be a tense and stylish thriller that benefits from the presence of three Academy Award winning performers. Based upon the Norwegian film of the same name, INSOMNIA remains fairly true to its inspiration without going the typical Hollywood assembly line route. In INSOMNIA, Al Pacino portrays Los Angeles homicide detective Will Dormer, who is sent to a small Alaskan community, along with his partner Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan), to help solve the brutal murder of a teenage girl. During a stakeout that lures the killer out of hiding, Dormer accidentally shoots and kills his partner after losing the suspect in a dense fogbank. Shock and lack of sleep allows Dormer to assign blame for Hapís death to the killer that he lost in the fog.
Robin Williams portrays said killer, one Walter Finch, who just happened to witness Dormer shoot his partner. Utilizing that bit of information as a bargaining chip, Finch attempts to blackmail Dormer into letting him get away with murder. What follows is a game of cross and double cross as each tries to gain the upper hand in their unique situation. However, what no one is counting on is the tenacity of local detective Ellie Burr (Hilary Swank), who idolizes Dormer, but is rapidly discovering the truth about both crimes on her own.
As I stated above, INSOMNIA greatly benefits from the presence of its three Academy Award winning actors. Pacino gives one of his better, more restrained, performances as Dormer, who tries to stay one step ahead of the killer, while dealing with the sleep deprivation brought about by his own guilt and the continuous daylight of this Northern Alaskan territory. INSOMNIA allows Robin Williams to show his surprisingly good darker side, something that that was only alluded to in his brief appearance in Kenneth Branagh's DEAD AGAIN. In this film, that darker side is more fully realized and proves to be rather compelling. Hilary Swank is wonderful as the plucky younger detective, who manages to lighten the atmosphere of this dark story, without ever breaking the gripping storyís hold over the audience. The cast of INSOMNIA also includes Maura Tierney, Nicky Katt, Paul Dooley, Jonathan Jackson and Katharine Isabelle.
Warner Home Video has made INSOMNIA available on DVD in a 2.35:1 wide screen presentation that features the anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 displays. This is an out and out gorgeous transfer, which brings out the beauty of Wally Pfisterís impressive cinematography. The image is wonderfully crisp and features excellent definition. Colors can be a bit restrained, which exaggerates the perpetual daylight and the bleakness of the situations that the characters find themselves. Of course, there are moments when colors are intensified for effect- and these moments are flawlessly rendered. Blacks are suitably inky, contrast is generally smooth and the image produces a very solid level of shadow detail. Despite the dense fog, which can be difficult to encode, digital compression artifacts remain as well concealed in that sequence, as they do in the rest of the film. Warner has issued a separate full screen edition of INSOMNIA for those who care.
INSOMNIA features a high quality Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack. While not particularly showy, the mix is highly atmospheric and keeps the viewer firmly rooted in story. Directional effects are pretty much limited to the forward soundstage, while the rear channels add ambience and create natural sounding sonic environments. Dialogue is cleanly reproduced and always fully intelligible. The bass channel is deep and solid, enhancing gunshots and impacts without ever sounding artificially exaggerated. A French 5.1 channel track is also encoded onto the DVD, as are English, French and Spanish subtitles.
Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVDís interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a number of supplemental features. Two separate commentaries have been included on the DVD, and they are both interesting to say the very least. First up is director Christopher Nolan, whose full running commentary is presented in the order that the film was shot. Watching scenes out of sequence is kind of disorienting, but the commentary takes one "through the process" and makes it a fascinating experience. The second commentary isnít really a track unto its self per-se, but instead individualized tracks in which actress Hilary Swank, screenwriter Hillary Seitz, editor Dody Dorn, cinematographer Wally Pfister and production designer Nathan Crowley speak for several minutes each over certain sequences of the film.
Also included on the DVD are a number of featurettes and supplemental programs. 180 degrees: A Conversation With Christopher Nola and Al Pacino runs seventeen minutes offers an interview format in which the director and actor discuss various aspects of the project, as well as their approaches to acting and directing. Day For Night: The making Of Insomnia is a seven-minute featurette that covers all the standard bases, but offers a bit more substance than the usual promotional program. The section entitled In The Fog offers two separate programs, totaling fifteen minutes, which cover Wally Pfister's cinematography and Nathan Crowley's Production design. Two brief deleted scenes are also included on the DVD with the option of directorís comments. Eyes Wide Open is an eight-minute program that interviews real insomniacs and physicians about the disorder. A theatrical trailer, production stills and cast & crew filmographies close out the supplements.
INSOMNIA is a stylish thriller that features a great cast, who are on top oft their game. Warnerís wide screen edition DVD looks phenomenal and sounds great. That, combined with some solid supplements makes this DVD something that fans of the filmís stars or director will want to own.
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