Blu-ray Review: Insomnia

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Before watching Warner’s Blu-ray for Christopher Nolan’s psychological thriller Insomnia the only other time I’d seen the film was in 2002 upon its theatrical release. It was touted as being from the director of Memento (a film I loved at that time), it starred Al Pacino and featured Robin Williams in his first of two creepy movie roles of that year. It was a combination of actors and a director that got me interested, but it did very little for me then and it still doesn’t move me eight years later.

Adapted from the 1997 Norwegian movie of the same name (buy it here), Insomnia tells the story of Will Dormer (Pacino), a Los Angeles detective under investigation by Internal Affairs as he is sent to the fictional city of Nightmute, Alaska to head the investigation of a local murder case. Stressed due to troubles back home and having a hard time sleeping thanks to Alaska’s midnight sun, Will begins losing his edge as a second murder adds to the confusion.

Along with Pacino and Williams, the film co-stars Martin Donovan and Hilary Swank who was only two years removed from her first Oscar win for Boys Don’t Cry. Nolan has always been an excellent judge of cast and character, but it’s not exactly the cast that lets this film down as much as it is the story shift near the beginning of the second act. After that the film lost a certain level of believability for me and my interest began to fade.

I don’t particularly enjoy or believe the play between Pacino and Williams in this film and perhaps I’ve also grown tired of Pacino’s acting as of late. Pacino always seems to play his characters larger (and certainly louder) than life. For some time now, when Al plays the wide-eyed cool guy or starts yelling I feel it would only be appropriate if everyone in the scene stopped for a second, looked around and collectively said, “Okay, now that you’ve got that out of the way can we move on?”

Pacino’s performances don’t mean as much to me to me anymore. This is no longer the Al we remember yelling “ATTICA!” or uttering “Whoo-ah.” It’s not even the Al that suggested Ashley Judd has “great ass” or suggested God was an “absentee landlord.” All I see now is Al the actor, no longer a character. I think I started to feel this way some time around 1999 and Any Given Sunday and he hasn’t done anything since to make me think otherwise.

This film still has its moments. The shoot-out in the fog is exceptional and this Blu-ray takes full advantage of it. Crisp and filled with detail the scene and the moment still have you on pins and needles even though you know the consequences involved once the gunshots ring out. I also thought Maura Tierney did well in a limited role and I’m always surprised her career didn’t amount to much more than lengthy stays on “Newsradio” and “ER”. I always felt her talents were solid and better than simple television programming. Although I should try and catch her on “Rescue Me,” a show I sort of gave up on after season four.

In terms of special features on this release nothing new is included, but it is an impressive package nonetheless, adding value to the overall release.

Most unique is the audio commentary with Nolan. It’s presented in a non-linear fashion as he goes through the film in the order he shot it. This affords him the opportunity to discuss the film a bit differently than any other commentary you’ve ever heard. I won’t say I was overwhelmingly taken by the commentary, but the fact it brings something new to the concept is a welcomed prospect.

There’s also 42 minutes of scene specific commentaries from Swank, screenwriter Hillary Seitz, director of photography Wally Pfister, production designer Nathan Crowley and editor Dody Dorn. You can watch these separately or altogether (altogether is the way to go) and the mixture of voices and the difference in content makes it a worthwhile lesson. Most interesting was hearing Seitz discuss the reason she added the chase across the floating logs to the story (a producer suggested it) and then reading Roger Ebert’s review of the movie in which he writes:

There is also a scene involving a chase across floating logs, and a scene where a character is trapped underwater. These are thrown in as–what? Sops for the cinematically impaired, I suppose. Only a studio executive could explain why we need perfunctory action, just for action’s sake, in a film where the psychological suspense is so high.

He can really hit the nail on the head can’t he?

A traditional behind-the-scenes featurette titled “Day for Night” is included as well as a much better featurette titled “In the Fog” with Pfister and Crowley discussing how they shot and designed the film. “Eyes Wide Open” is a short featurette taking a look at people suffering from insomnia and “180 Degrees” is rather boring “interview” session in which it is said Nolan interviews Pacino for 17 minutes, but I’ll be damned if Pacino isn’t just yammering on for most of the time.

Finally, there’s one short deleted and rather inconsequential scene with optional commentary by Nolan, a gallery of 20+ stills and the theatrical trailer.

Overall, this is a solid package. It’s just too bad I don’t like the film a bit more. However, it’s an easy title to recommend to those that do enjoy the movie. There is a lot to offer by the way of special features (even if they are all in standard definition) and the film looks and sounds excellent on the high definition format.

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