Saturday 10 April 2010

Insomnia: review

A few years ago, I watched the 2002 American movie Insomnia, starring Al Pacino, and enjoyed it. However, a number of well-informed people told me that this version was not as good as the film of which it was a re-make. The original Insomnia was first screened in 1997 and is a Norwegian film by Erik Skoldbjaerg. I’ve now managed to catch up with it.

Over the credits, we see footage of a teenage girl, falling prey to an assailant. After that prelude, the investigation into her death begins. A top detective, played by Stellan Skarsgaard, arrives with his partner in a quiet spot inside the Arctic Circle to solve the mystery. He is Swedish, and therefore doubly an outsider in the small community.

The trouble is that the detective finds it impossible to get a decent night’s sleep in a place where the sun never seems to go down. As his view of the world becomes blurred by insomnia, so his behaviour becomes morally compromised, to such an extent that the dividing line between the detective and the man he is hunting is far from clear.

I thought this film was pretty well done, even though the mystery element was nothing truly special, and I can see why it has attracted an enthusiastic following, as well as the tribute of a glossy re-make with one of the world’s top film stars. I liked Pacino’s performance a lot, but the little known Skarsgaard – in a very different way – also makes a fine impression as the detective tormented by lack of sleep.


Anonymous said...

Martin - Thanks, as always, for this review. I'd never seen the original Insomnia, but very often, the original is better than the re-make is (although as you say, Pacino is a fine, fine actor. Perhaps I'll give this original a go...

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I haven't watched the original, although it does sound good. I enjoyed the Pacino version when I saw it a few years ago.

I'm an insomniac myself, and I know there was some discussion that the way the film treated insomnia was over the top. It was exaggerated, sure, but I liked the overall affect the character's sleep deficit had on the plot...even if it wasn't realistic.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Dorte H said...

Oh, I have seen Stellan Skarsgaard several years ago in a children´s film. He had a very strong charisma, and I would love to see him again.

And I have just read about the problems of ´White Nights´ in Ann Cleeves´ fine novel. I would definitely buy blackout curtains if I had to stay in a place like that for more than a few days. Insomnia is terrible.

Maxine Clarke said...

I have insomnia, and I watched this movie on a plane while travelling overnight to the USA, suffering from insomnia ;-) I really liked the film (the protag gradually falling into the vortex of his own making) but I would have loved to have seen the original. I must check out to see if it is available in a subtitled format.
I don't have much time for Al Pacino but I thought he was OK in this - and was very thankful they did not cave in and go for the usual ghastly Hollywood/ego trip ending.

Martin Edwards said...

Many thanks for your comments.
Elizabeth and Maxine, I'm intrigued to learn that two such hard-working and productive writers as yourselves both have the misfortune to suffer from insomnia. Could it be that the lack of sleep means that you devote more time to writing and reading? And does writing and reading help you to deal with it?

Anonymous said...

Not a Mamma Mia fan then? Or you'd know Stellan Skarsgård. He's been in a gazillion films by now. I remember him from an old Swedish classic when I was a child (he was 16, I think). There are now lots of 'little' Skarsgårds out there, acting away.

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Bookwitch - you're right, I'm not a Mamma Mia fan, no - though I do like Abba!