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  • 15
  • Crime, Drama
  • 1997
  • 97 mins




A taut and highly atmospheric thriller set in the land of the midnight sun. Stellan Skarsgard is the sleep-deprived cop attempting to hide his responsibility for his partner's death


Christopher Nolan's 2002 remake with Al Pacino and Robin Williams may be better known but the original, a stark procedural psychodrama, is an impressively sinister debut by Swedish writer-director Erik Skjoldbjaerg.

The bright appearance and gloomy tone of the sophisticated and ingeniously plotted Insomnia suggest a cunning inversion of noir, with Skarsgård's crooked cop disintegrating in the cold light of Norway's endless day.

Only nominally a whodunnit, the facts of the case are actually revealed early on. Oslo detectives Jonas Engström (Skarsgård) and Erik Vik (Ousdal) are called to a town in northern Norway to investigate the brutal murder of a 17-year-old girl. Weary when he arrives, Engström accidentally shoots Vik dead during a stake-out on a foggy hillside. But rather than come clean he tries to pin the murder on the girl's real killer, crime writer Jon Holt (Floberg). There's just one problem. Holt saw Engström do it.

Skarsgård himself is probably best known for his role in Breaking The Waves, and with his puffy eyes and greasy skin he brings to the part a relentlessly creepy quality which emphasises the ambiguous moral tone. Likewise Skjoldbjaerg 's direction maintains the menacing vibe with a series of sinister flourishes - Engtröm's queasy encounter with an underage girl, the shooting and subsequent dissection of a dog, the revelation that in a previous case he enjoyed an "intimate conversation" with a witness.

It ends with a satisfyingly subtle final twist and though the film doesn't labour the point, it's clear that Engström's insomnia is emblematic of a greater and more profound exhaustion. Plot and psychology are skilfully woven together and the final result is a highly-accomplished, tightly-controlled thriller, very much worth keeping your eyes open for.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Stellan Skarsgård, Sverre Anker Ousdal, Gisken Armand, Bjørn Floberg, Maria Bonnevie, Maria Mathiesen
  • Director: Erik Skjoldbjaerg
  • Writer: Erik Skjoldbjaerg, Nikolaj Frobenius
  • Producer: Thomas Backström, Petter J Borgli, Tom Remlov
  • Photographer: Erling Thurmann-Anderson
  • Composer: Geir Jenssen

In a nutshell

Different but equal to the Hollywood remake, this is an imaginatively conceived and powerfully acted thriller that locates the real drama firmly inside its characters' heads.

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