Friday, September 3, 2010

Pose Reviews A Movie. #37: Insomnia (1997)

Oh never fail to impress. First The Bothersome Man and now this? Dare I say...Nor-way to go!

I was originally turned onto Insomnia (the film, not the disorder) when I was going through my Christopher Nolan phase (see my reviews for #30: Following and #35: The Prestige) and expressed an interest in re-watching Nolan's 2002 remake.

Both Chris and Ryan recommended the original, citing its extreme superiority, confirmed by its inclusion in The Criterion Collection.

"Better than Christopher Nolan?" I thought. "GOD'S GIFT TO CINEMA, CHRISTOPHER NOLAN?!"

I had to see it to believe it.

Then I did. And now I do.

Insomnia is the story of Jonas Engstrom, a Swedish police detective assigned to a murder investigation in a small town in Northern Norway. The town, which is located above the Arctic Circle, experiences 24-hour daylight, and Engstrom must fight the effects of unrelenting insomnia while trying to get to the bottom of the case.

It's a cool premise, and the entire film is imbued with a hyper-creepy vibe, due in large part to the acting of Stellan Skarsgård, who plays the lead role. Skarsgård plays a brilliant and cunning detective at first, but later descends into a 'bad cop' archetype, due in part by a grievous error he makes early on in the investigation, and exacerbated by his inability to sleep with the constant daylight.

But make no mistake. Engstrom (Skarsgård) is not a Dirty Harry style bad cop. He's just dirty. In fact, this is one of the best movies I've seen where, despite his undeniable cleverness, the protagonist is someone the audience comes to profoundly dislike.

However, the sinister quality of the main character makes the plot all the more compelling--as Engstrom digs himself deeper and deeper into the realm of amorality, the story gets more and more suspenseful.

I also thought Insomnia did a tasteful job of handling the subject matter of the crime at hand--it's hard to watch a film about the murder of a 15-year old girl, but the violence of the original act is depicted briefly and more or less implicitly, and there are no shocking or disturbing images of it popping up later in the film. It's still not a movie to watch with the kids, but director Erik Skjoldbjaerg makes it as easy to stomach as possible.

Overall, I thought Insomnia was an effectively suspenseful and genuinely engrossing crime thriller, and the added element of a dislikable protagonist works to make it more intriguing. I'd certainly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good murder mystery, as long as you don't mind reading some subtitles along the way.

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