Insomnia

1998

Insomnia

Critics Consensus

No consensus yet.

97%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 38

77%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 9,093
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Movie Info

Norwegian filmmaker Erik Skjoldbjaerg makes his directorial debut with the psychological police drama Insomnia. Swedish homicide detective Jonas Engström (Stellan Skarsgård) and his partner, Erik Vik (Sverre Anker Ousdal), arrive in a small Northern Norwegian town to help the local police investigate the murder of a teenage girl. When Jonas finds the girl's backpack, he sets a trap for the killer near a remote shed. While waiting to make an ambush in the morning fog, Jonas accidentally shoots Erik. He knows it was only an accident, but he decides to keep it a secret because he could lose his job. Jonas chooses to carry on with his investigation while trying to cover up the evidence of Erik's death. Meanwhile, he's unable to get any sleep due to the constant sunlight of the Norwegian summer and his increasingly guilty conscience. His only help comes from highly intuitive local police officer Hilda Haugen (Gisken Armand), who begins to form her own doubts about Jonas. As he continues to lose his grip on the case at hand, he becomes dangerously close to the suspects, Jon Holt (Bjørn Floberg) and Frøya (Marianne O. Ulrichsen). Filmmaker Christopher Nolan directed the English-language remake of Insomnia in 2002 with Al Pacino, Robin Williams, and Hilary Swank.

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Critic Reviews for Insomnia

All Critics (38) | Top Critics (6) | Fresh (37) | Rotten (1)

  • Insomnia is the sort of picture big studios used to make when they still believed they could take audiences on a ride without rubbing their faces in digital gloss.

    Feb 5, 2018 | Full Review…

    Paul Tatara

    CNN.com
    Top Critic
  • It's [Stellan Skarsgard's] controlled performance that galvanises this otherwise underpowered thriller.

    Mar 29, 2019 | Full Review…
  • a masterpiece of unease and illness, the more so because the terminal sickness it describes is a universal condition.

    Dec 29, 2014 | Rating: 3.5/4 | Full Review…
  • ... a paranoid noir thriller in broad daylight, and Skarsgard inhabits his role so naturally that when he starts going off the rails, it's as disorienting as it is disturbing.

    Oct 6, 2014 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…
  • It becomes clear the title of the film could just as well be 'The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - Tromsø.'

    Aug 3, 2014 | Rating: 8/10 | Full Review…
  • fascinated by the conundrums of human psychology and moral frailty, which is why the film is centered on a protagonist who is generally dislikable as a person, yet is inherently compelling as a human subject.

    Jul 28, 2014 | Rating: 3.5/4 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Insomnia

  • Apr 27, 2016
    Erik Skjoldbjærg's 1997 Norwegian film "Insomnia" is a tense police procedral film and a psychological thriller at the same time. Skjoldbjærg does an excellent job portraying guilt and restlessness due to the midnight sun in Northern Norway. The film follows police officer Jonas Engström (Stellan Skarsgard) as he is called to a city north of the Arctic Circle to investigate a murder of a 17-year-old girl. While setting up a trap for the killer that goes wrong, a chase ensues and Engström mistakenly shoots his partner. Engström attempts to cover this up by saying the killer has killed his partner. It's worth noting that Engström is Swedish and that Swedish police are armed at all times, Norwegian police are not. He brings his service pistol to Norway with him. What follows is guilt and dread for Engström. He thinks he sees his old partner while visiting another officer in the hospital. He starts to tamper with evidence of the case. He replaces the bullet from his gun with a bullet from the killer's gun he dropped. He starts drinking heavily and loses sleep because of the guilt but also because of the sunlight all night long. When he gets a break that a crime novelist named Jon Holt (Bjørn Floberg) was seen with the girl, he tracks him down. Holt then blackmails Engström with knowledge of him killing his partner. Engström and Holt then go about framing the girl's boyfriend for the murder. It's a very tense film that does much with the minimal budget most European films outside of Germany, France, United Kingdom and Italy have. The film does a terrific job of building up tension without the use of music or fancy editing. An overall near-perfect film with flashes of noir influence.
    Joseph B Super Reviewer
  • Jul 30, 2015
    Wow. Today I wanted to watch something real. I truly got it with this stellar debut feature from Skjoldbjærg. I watched an American made film of his recently, Prozac Nation. I found the film- while flawed- slightly under appreciated. Insomnia is completely under appreciated though. One of the greatest crime thrillers ever made, the film follows a sociopath detective who makes a grave mistake by accidentally shooting his partner. Played by Stellan Skarsgård in a convincing and gripping performance. The film holds tension throughout. Every single scene, even the most uneventful are intense. And all somehow equally so. A scene where Detective Engstrom is struggling to sleep is just as intense as the scene where he meets the suspected killer he's searching for. And this is somehow despite the predictability. I knew what would happen at the end of each scene from the initial entrance, I pretty much knew how the whole film would play out after the first 25 minutes. Yet Skjoldbjærg and Skarsgård team up to make it surprisingly gripping. Proving how important atmosphere is to making a great film. The film is highly symbolic. The efforts of Detective Engstrom are bothered by the bright sun peering into his room. Unlike most horror, thrillers, and mysteries Insomnia does not rely on darkness, but instead light. Everything happens in broad daylight, and even in the final scene where everything goes dark except for Detective Engstrom eyes- the "light" in the scene is the only chilling part about it. There's one scene in particular that I think has the most symbolic image. When Detective Engstrom enters a "suspects" room to continue on his path of lies there's an image of Freud glaring next to him. "The Truth Will set you free" is a Freud quote that immediately comes to mind, and clearly the detective is not free while he's continuing his path of deceiving those around him. I don't think I'm over analyzing this either, because in this film every prop is important and has some reference. I have not seen Nolan's remake, nor do I plan too. I'm much more likely to just rewatch this film. As I mentioned I was looking for something real, and I believe that's much more achievable with a cast of nobodies compared to a star studded cast of Al Pacino, Robin Williams, and Hillary Swank. I think I will stick to Skarsgård, Mathiesen, and Bjørn Floberg. In this cold, extremely graphic yet tasteful, thriller in a Norwegian town where the sun never sets- which I now realize is terrifying.
    Daniel D Super Reviewer
  • May 14, 2014
    It is hard to believe that this is Erik Skjoldbjaerg's first film. It seems like a pro job to me. Very rarely do you get thrillers crafted this well. Almost everything is perfect. The script is as taut as possible. I saw no holes, anyhow. The plot is believable and you will never see the best twists coming. Even if you are the type who sits there and constantly guesses what's coming next during thrillers, I doubt you could. The film does a lot to avoid plot cliches. And if I'm wrong about that, if I was just blinded by other aspects of the film, it won't really matter. The characters are very well written. Especially the main character, played by Stellan Skarsgard. He is certainly one of the best actors working today and this may just be his greatest performance yet. He owns the film. The cinematography is effective. It's bleak and cold. The camera moves assuredly, and it's always where it should be. The music is perfectly subdued. The direction in general is simply amazing. The mise-en-scene is marvelous. I love the settings of the film, the threatening, rocky terrain, the broken and rusty buildings, everything. This is a must-see film. One of the best films of the 1990s.5 Stars 3-1014
    Bruce B Super Reviewer
  • Sep 29, 2012
    A thriller with an unexpected turn early on that changes the game. Really good stuff here including a great performance by Stellan Skarsgard.
    ZACHO D Super Reviewer

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