Disgraced Swedish detective Jonas Engström (Stellan Skarsgård) travels to northern Norway to solve a brutal murder in Insomnia. Unable to sleep through the night of the midnight sun, Engström quickly loses his grip on the case and his mind. Erik Skjoldbjærg's debut feature is a deft amalgam of psychological thriller, morality play, and police procedural. Criterion presents the DVD premiere of Insomnia in a new widescreen transfer.
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This 1997 film from Norway and neophyte director Erik Skjoldbjærg delivers the goods with unsettling effectiveness. It's an intense, smart, and taut thriller if only because what it eerily implies is creepier than the film's reality. Opening with a churning, chilling murder of a young woman, Insomnia invites the viewer--as well as its protagonist, celebrated Oslo homicide cop Jonas Engström (Stellan Skarsgård)--into the mind and thoughts of a killer by making Engström fatally flawed himself. While in pursuit of the murderer, Engström makes a mistake; he accidentally shoots his partner and friend and covers up his deed in a panic. But he overlooks a minor detail: the real killer has seen him commit the crime. What ensues is a layered, complex, and unnerving descent into chaos, brought on by the inability to sleep in this land of the midnight sun. Engström suffers from insomnia, which warps his logic and resolve, and before long he's totally unraveled and unsure of his every move. But not before a twisty transference and countertransference occurs between cop and killer. The two play a game of high-stakes one-upmanship that surprises in the end. Insomnia is fresh and psychologically bent, full of Scandinavian despair and dark humor, and it boasts a film noir pulse beneath its blinding light. --Paula Nechak
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