Monday, July 19, 2010

Movie Review: Inception

Inception ****
Directed by:
Christopher Nolan.
Written By: Christopher Nolan.
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio (Cobb), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Arthur), Ellen Page (Ariadne), Marion Cotillard (Mal), Tom Hardy (Eames), Ken Watanabe (Saito), Cillian Murphy (Robert Fischer, Jr.), Dileep Rao (Yusuf), Tom Berenger (Browning), Pete Postlethwaite (Maurice Fischer), Michael Caine (Miles), Lukas Haas (Nash).

Inception is almost a throwback film, which is odd for a film that is so full of cutting edge visuals. It is a big budget mind screw of a movie that keeps going further and further down the rabbit hole which each new plot development. It reminded me of a time – the late 1960s through the mid 1970s to be exact – when talented directors were given a lot of money by the studios and told to make whatever the hell they wanted to. In an era where we mainly get mindless blockbusters, here is a movie that is all about the mind and a film that constantly twists and turns itself inside out. This is the type of film you get to make when you’re last film was The Dark Knight – a huge commercial and critical success – and the studio wants to keep you happy. And I for one am happy that director Christopher Nolan decided to push himself hard with this movie. It is his best film to date.

Inception takes place in the near future where corporate espionage has taken a new twist – instead of breaking into your office to steal your secrets, thieves break into your mind and find them. They do through what is called “shared dreaming” where they are hooked up to a machine with you, and enter the world. There are a lot of rules to this world that requires architects to build the dream world, but I won’t go into them. Essentially though, you only have so much time in the dream world before the dreamer’s subconscious turns on the outsiders and try to kill them. Luckily, if you die in a dream, you simply wake up. The further down into the dream world you go however, the more unstable things get, and the risk of falling into limbo becomes all too real. The dream world moves faster than real life – 5 minutes of actual sleeping is like an hour in the dream world, and when you get into dreams inside of dreams, the time limit speeds up even more.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays Cobb, who is the most talented “extractor” in the business. He is able to get pretty much anything he wants from whoever he wants, but for reasons that are not explained, he can never go home again and see his kids – which is really all he wants to do. When a mission to get secrets out of Saito (Ken Watanabe) goes wrong, Saito isn’t angry, but instead offers Cobb and his team a new job. But this time, it isn’t extraction he wants, but inception – planting an idea into the head of one of his competitors – in this case Robert Fischer Jr. (Cillian Murphy) who is about to inherit his dying fathers massive company. Inception is thought to be impossible, but Cobb takes the deal anyway, because Saito says that he can get him home again.

So DiCaprio assembles his team. In some regards, Inception feels like one of those 1960s heist movies, where a crackerjack team of professionals are assembled to pull off a seemingly impossible job. Cobb’s partner is Arthur (Joseph Gordon Levitt) who knows the risks, but follows Cobb anyway. Cobb adds a new architect, Ariadne (Ellen Page) to build the dream worlds, the skilled Eames (Tom Hardy) who is gifted at both theft and impersonation and Yusef (Dileep Rao) who can supply the team with the type of drugs they need to put them all under for long enough to get the job done. Since they are going three levels down – that is a dream inside a dream inside a dream – they need them. The biggest threat to them is Mal (Marion Cottilard), Cobb’s wife who shows up and screws up their plans.

That is all I am going to say about the plot. One of the joys of watching the movie is to see this intricately layered plot take twist after twist, and draw us further and further into this dream world. The smartest thing that Nolan did perhaps was not making the dream world too unreal – this isn’t like The Lovely Bones or What Dreams May Come – but rather a dream world that looks and feels much like our own, but is just slightly off kilter. The normal rules don’t really apply, and there is a mesmerizing sequence in zero gravity, but the film feels real. Like the best special effects, the ones in Inception are pretty much invisible.

Besides the plot is not really what the movie is about, it’s just what happens in the story. Like the recent Shutter Island, this film is really all about the DiCaprio characters mind, haunted by the past in ways that he only gradually comes to understand. Although they are not entering his subconscious, he brings it along with them anyway, and it becomes a danger to everyone else. The movie is about dreams and memory, the effects of the past on the present and finally life and death. A whole hell of a lot is going on beneath the surface of this film – it’s like a Charlie Kaufman film, if Kaufman made action thrillers instead of cerebral comedies.

The performances in the movie have got to be just right, or the whole effect of the film is blown. Luckily Nolan has assembled perhaps the best ensemble cast of the year. DiCaprio leads the cast, and he continues to show why he just may be the best actor of his generation – and the one most willing to take risks. He inhabits Cobb, which is a complicated role, wonderfully, and brings us into his mind literally. His supporting cast is excellent – particularly Ellen Page, miles away from Juno here, as the architect, and the only one who truly understands what Cobb is going through, and Cotillard, who is given a near impossible role as Cobb’s wife, but really only his projection of her. Joseph Gordon Levitt continues to prove that he is one of the best actors out there right now, and Tom Hardy builds on his excellent work in the under seen Bronson last years as Eames. The rest of the cast fills out their roles nicely.

It would have been easy for Nolan to make a much simpler, more audience friendly hit. After The Dark Knight, he could have probably done anything he wanted to do – as long as he agreed to make another Batman sequel afterwards. But Nolan is a director who is constantly challenging my perception of him. He continues his string of excellent films that deal with the mind and morality, to go alongside the action – which he directs better than just about anyone else out there right now anyway. He has proven to be one of the best, most ambitious filmmakers out there right now – and Inception is another step forward for him.

No comments:

Post a Comment